Smith: The Curious Case of Ferris State and the Wheel

Ferris State has had great recent success on the gridiron. The 2017 season marked its fourth straight year of being invited to the NCAA Division II football playoffs, and they are 5-2 against rival Grand Valley State since 2012. The Bulldogs have become a nationally known name in the world of Division II sports, and for good reason.

But there is something under the surface, something deeper that I think may be the cause for Ferris’ recent success. Could something as simple as an amusement park ride be the true catalyst for a football team’s success? It sounds far-fetched right? But hear me out, I believe that I may have discovered an interesting correlation to the Bulldogs winning ways. So let’s take a look at some background to my theory.


Ferris State was named after founder Woodbridge Nathan Ferris, who was born in New York in 1853. The school was founded in Big Rapids in 1884 as Big Rapids Industrial School, but would later be known as Ferris State. This was only nine years before the first Ferris wheel was invented.

Now the closest amusement park to Big Rapids today is Michigan’s Adventure in Muskegon, a mere 60 miles away by car. The park opened in 1956 as Deer Park, and had several attractions to lure tourists and locals alike. But a Ferris wheel was not added to the park until 1972, and was in service until 1988. This Ferris wheel was replaced by a larger gondola (still technically a Ferris wheel) in 1989, in order to accommodate the growing park.

Ferris and the wheel

Here is where this coincidence starts. If we look at Ferris State’s record from 1972-1988, when the first Ferris wheel was operational, Ferris compiled a 60-99-7 record. Good enough for a .383 winning percentage. If we approximate, that means Ferris was winning around one out of every three of their games. However when the new gondola was installed in 1989, Ferris’ luck changed for the better. In the 29 years since the new Ferris wheel was installed, Ferris has enjoyed a 211-118-3 record, good for a .640 winning percentage. Or to put that into a fraction. Ferris won approximately two out of their every three games. This is an improvement of a whole game compared to 1972-1988. Now if that’s not a spooky coincidence, I don’t know what is. But win percentage isn’t everything, let’s take a look at playoff appearances as well.

The Division II playoffs have also been kind to Ferris since the new gondola was built. Since 1989, the Bulldogs have qualified nine times for the playoffs. And in the previous years from 1972-1988, the Bulldogs had failed to qualify once. That’s right, they did not qualify for the playoffs once during the original Ferris wheel’s run.


So to summarize, Ferris State from 1972 – 1988 had a .383 winning percentage with no playoff appearances, this was during the time that the original Ferris wheel. In the years since the new Ferris wheel was made operational (1989), Ferris has enjoyed a .640 winning percentage with nine playoff appearances. Now scientists say that correlation does not equal causation. But with Ferris sharing a name with the aforementioned Ferris wheel, I’m inclined to put aside that argument and say that the Michigan’s Adventure Ferris wheel has a great influence on the Bulldogs success. But can we truly attribute the new Ferris wheel as the sole reason for Ferris States rebound? Probably not, the values and hard work of the coaches of Ferris State are certainly the main reason. But, we can’t quite ignore the odd coincidence that Ferris State/wheel have presented to us.

So Ferris fans and football players, next time your downstate, enjoying Shivering Timbers and the water park at Michigan’s Adventure, give a little shout out to the Ferris wheel, as it has been the unsung hero of the recent success that Ferris has had. But even if Michigan’s Adventure does decide to replace the current Ferris wheel with a new and improved version, I have no doubt that the current Ferris State coaches and staff will continue the great winning tradition that they have instilled in the past 27 years. After all, a Ferris wheel couldn’t have that much influence on a football team…could it?

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