Stay Division I? Drop football? EWU weighing options for athletic department
CHENEY, Wash. — Major decisions await Eastern Washington University as it determines the future of its athletic department.
EWU commissioned a report from the The Pictor Group to determine the best direction for the department. The six-month review consisted of on-site visits, examination of documents, and interviews and surveys with students, faculty and staff.
The group presented its outline last week.
In the report, the group outlines issues related to “declining enrollment and corresponding budget cuts.” It also cites athletics as a way of boosting the university’s reputation, citing success in basketball and football, as well as the university’s famous red turf.
“The perception of some affiliated with the university is that athletics does not contribute to the university mission,” the introduction states. “However, the athletics program’s recruitment and support of over 300 student athletes brings diversity to the university and helps EWU achieve its enrollment goals. Campus and prospective student events surrounding football games and other athletics events bring future students to campus to enhance admissions and enrollment efforts. The success of the athletics program brings former students back to campus and provides a significant enhancement to the university’s alumni relations and development efforts.”
The report cites that the athletics budget has been reduced significantly over the past four to five years, along with other departments. EWU is also on track to go deeper into the hole with decreasing enrollment, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The university stands to lose an additional $5 million going into fiscal year 2022.
PAST COVERAGE: Close to 400 positions impacted by budget cuts at EWU
The report laid out four options for EWU athletics to consider:
- Option A: Remain a NCAA Division I-FCS program
- Option B: Reclassify to NCAA Division I Subdivision (non-football)
- Option C: Reclassify to Division II
- Option D: Reclassify to Division III
The report said EWU’s funding for the athletic department has fallen “well below the median for Division I-FCS and Eastern’s peer institutions in the Big Sky Conference.” Football is a defining part of the program and dropping football would “require careful consideration.”
Researchers surveyed business owners in the Cheney area as part of the investigation. Of those surveyed in the Cheney Merchants Association and West Plains Chamber, most said dropping football would have a “very significant” financial impact on their business.
The report also surveyed the top 100 donors and athletic department season ticket holders. Just over 35 percent said they would be likely to drop their support of the program if football was dropped. Nearly 30 percent said they would be likely or very likely to continue supporting the program.
The report concluded with saying EWU is at a “critical juncture” regarding the future of its athletics program. Researchers see this as an opportunity to determine how athletics aligns with the university’s overall mission.
“If EWU were to decide to reclassify its athletics program to a lower NCAA division, there will be measurable cost savings, but also a significant loss in revenue and a noticeable decline in visibility of the athletics program,” the report said. “Campus and community pride would be diminished.”
The university will now take public comment and also meet with student and faculty groups and boards to seek input. Information will be presented to the EWU Board of Trustees this spring to make a final determination.
“We are thankful for the many EWU fans and alumni who have advocated for athletics during this time, and look forward to a final recommendation this spring,” says EWU Director of Athletics Lynn Hickey. “While recognizing this can be a difficult time as we await the conclusion of this process, my department is in full support of the university’s efforts to complete a fair review.”
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