Delaware likely does not come to mind when you think of sports hotbeds in the United States. The Union's first state is not first in the minds of sports fans, living in the shadow of Pennsylvania and Maryland. The preeminent sporting event in The First State is easily the Route 1 Rivalry between Delaware State and Delaware.
NASCAR fans may argue the Wurth 400 at Dover Speedway has more fanfare, but the clash between the state's two flagship institutions means way more to the state than a race on the stock car circuit. It took a lot to get these schools together.
After years of avoidance and controversy involving Delaware's administration, the FCS Playoffs were the force that brought the Hornets and Blue Hens together. Now, after a brief 15 years and 11 meetings, conference realignment may kill a rivalry that took years to come to life.
Last week, Matt Brown of Extra Points reported that Delaware was considering moving to FBS after discontentment with the CAA emerged.
Several college football purists will mourn the loss of several longtime Yankee Conference/Atlantic 10/CAA rivals, but the loss of the Route 1 Rivalry deserves as much sorrow. The loss is more devastating for Delaware State than for Delaware.
The Route 1 Rivalry has brought both schools into the national limelight on multiple occasions. ESPN2 aired the highly anticipated first meeting in the 2007 FCS Playoffs on Black Friday. Since then, NBC Sports Network (RIP) aired the game in 2011 and 2012. The COVID-19 Spring season of 2021 saw a return to ESPN2 for the first meeting at Delaware State's Alumni Stadium.
While the national TV exposure is a plus for Delaware State, the most significant loss is the future home games against the Blue Hens. Delaware State consistently struggles with attendance at the 7,193-seat Alumni Stadium. The Hornets finished 113th in FCS attendance in 2021, averaging 2,649 fans per home game. The following year, the Hornets dropped to 117th in the FCS and averaged 2,130 fans per home game.
The Hornets had the Blue Hens visiting Dover in 2024 and 2025, and these games were rare opportunities for packed houses at Alumni Stadium. For a program like Delaware State, which had to play two FBS paycheck games this year, the ticket revenue from the crowd of a Route 1 Rivalry is crucial. If Delaware moves up to the FBS, the Route 1 Rivalry still has occasional life, but it will never reach the confines of the Delaware State campus.
Several college football fans are tired of conference realignment and want the madness to stop. Delaware moving to FBS could create a new chain of uncertainty. Surprisingly, it is not a single school in the Coastal Athletic Association that should be concerned the most, but the Blue Hens' long-overlooked in-state rival.
***Huge thanks to mattsarzsports.com for the assistance in Route 1 Rivalry Broadcast.***