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Tue., Oct. 27, 2009, 6:11 p.m.

Reactions vary on decision to lift EWU’s postseason ban

I've been chasing comments on the NCAA's decision to lift its postseason ban on Eastern Washington University's football program all day and, for the most part, fans seemed jazzed.

But coaches and players have taken a much more subdued approach to the news, realizing there is a lot of work still left to do on the football field in order to make the NCAA's latest ruling meaningful.

I've included an unedited version of the sidebar story on their reaction that will appear in Wednesday morning's S-R, along with some links to related stories.

Read on, and please feel free to leave any thoughts you might have on the NCAA's decision, or the players' reactions, right here.



As promised, I've included this link to what the EWU's athletic department website had on the the lift of the postseason ban, along with this link to what the people in the Big Sky's main office in Ogden, Utah, put out.

And check back tomorrow for links to other related stories, along with some thoughts on the matter from other Big Sky coaches.

So, here's the story -- most of which, I hope -- will appear in tomorrow's S-R.

Nichols keeps it real with reaction to NCAA decision

Matt Nichols’ initial reaction to the postseason ban the NCAA slapped on Eastern Washington University’s football team back in early February was as perceptive as it was pragmatic.



 “We need to make sure it’s a penalty,” Eastern’s senior quarterback said at the time. “If we go 6-5 again, it won’t matter.”



Nichols took much that same kind of no-nonsense approach on Tuesday when asked about his initial reaction to the NCAA’s announcement that the ban, which resulted from a series of infractions committed by the football program under former head coach Paul Wulff, had been lifted.



“It was definitely good news,” said the four-year starter. “If we had beaten Montana or Weber, and were in a little bit better position, I think it would have been a little bit more exciting.  But right now, we kind of have our backs against the wall with another tough this weekend.



“So, big picture, we have to win our last three games to have any chance to go to the playoffs. And even with an 8-3 finish – with how good Montana and Weber State are playing – it’s still going to be really tough to get in.”



Nichols’ take on the Eastern’s current plight did not seem quite as optimistic as that of Eagles athletic director Bill Chaves, who was quick to point out that 8-3 teams have made the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in the past.



EWU, Chaves noted, finished 8-3 during the regular season back in 2007 when it finished second to Montana in the Big Sky Conference, but received an at-large playoff berth and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual national champion Appalachian State.



“At this stage, we’re 5-3 and still have plenty of work to do on the field,” Chaves said. “But we’ve seen teams at 8-3 get in, so, should we be fortunate enough to win that many games, this certainly gives our players – and especially our seniors – something to shoot at.”



Eastern (5-3 overall, 4-2 in the Big Sky Conference) still trails Montana (4-0), Weber State (5-1) and Northern Arizona (4-1) – three teams that are all ranked in this week’s Sports Network Top 25 – in the Big Sky standings, but has not yet been eliminated from the title race.  The Eagles, who travel to Seattle this weekend for Saturday’s “Showdown on the Sound” against Portland State (2-6, 1-4), have already lost to No. 2 Montana and No. 14 Weber State, who meet in Missoula on this weekend. But they close the regular season with a Nov. 21 road game against No. 21 NAU that could go a long way in determining their postseason fate.



Eastern’s junior linebacker J.C. Sherritt doesn’t expect Tuesday announcement from the NCAA to affect the Eagles’ approach to any of their remaining three games.



“We were definitely happy,” he said, “but Coach (Beau) Baldwin did a good job of explaining to us that it really doesn’t matter if we lose another game. And I think we’ve had a really good attitude this whole year of approaching every game in the same way, playoff ban or not.”



That attitude, according to Sherritt, was never more apparent that during last Saturday’s 35-24 comeback win over Montana State.



“That game really epitomized our approach,” he explained, “especially coming off the (41-34) loss to Montana, being down 10 points in the fourth quarter and coming back to win the game. I think that proved this team has never been worried about whether the ban was going to lifted, or about anything else that’s not in our control.



“We’ve been good about keeping it week to week.”



Nichols echoed those sentiments.



“We’ve pretty much played this whole year thinking we were going to be able to go to the playoffs,” he said, “so it’s not like we would have done anything different had we known (about the NCAA’s decision) a couple of weeks ago.



“It just throws a little bit more excitement in, knowing for sure that we still have a chance to go. Now, all we can is hope we perform down the stretch.”




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