Eastern Washington University athletic teams will remain in NCAA Division I, but don’t expect faculty members to be good sports about it.
After a month of public comment, EWU’s board of trustees Friday unanimously agreed to not drop the school’s eight women’s teams and seven men’s teams to Division II.
As a Division II team, the Eastern Eagles might form a conference to play Central Washington, Western Washington or others.
As a Division I Big Sky Conference member, the Eagles compete against the University of Montana, Portland State, and six other teams in California, Arizona and elsewhere.
Board members said Division I status increases Eastern’s public exposure without costing much more than it takes to field Division II teams.
“No one is a bigger supporter of athletics than I am, but if I could have been convinced that not having athletics, or moving to Division II, would have benefited the university, I would have supported it,” board chairman James Kirschbaum said.
The board vote came on the eve of today’s homecoming football game in Cheney against Idaho State University. The Eagles are 6-1 overall and leading the Big Sky Conference at 4-1.
In a letter to the board, Caren Lincoln, president of the Eagle Athletic Association, warned that a switch to Division II would trigger an exodus of students, including some of the 400 who play on one of Eastern’s 15 intercollegiate squads.
“We seriously doubt that even the most diligent of recruitment efforts would quickly restore these numbers,” Lincoln said.
But some faculty question the wisdom of spending $3.23 million per year on intercollegiate athletics at a time when EWU is begging for money from the state and making deep cuts to its academic programs.
Football alone consumes one out of every four of those dollars.
Instructors also are wondering if the university is being fair.
Last summer, faculty waived merit bonuses and extended their existing contract to assist in budget cuts. Shortly thereafter, administrators drew up a plan to trim 25 percent of all full-time faculty positions during the next two years and have threatened to layoff some tenured faculty.
In the midst of these actions, athletics has been untouched.
“We’ve only got so much money to spend,” said Bob Morgenstern, a criminal justice professor and chairman of the Athletic Policy Board. “The faculty doesn’t see athletics as a part of the university’s academic mission.”
EWU athletics, after assuming the added cost of some physical education and health instructors, lost $34,900 in fiscal 1997, which ended June 30, according to a new audit by McFarland & Alton public accountants. That compared with a $68,400 gain the previous year.
Sandra Christensen, associate professor of business management and president of EWU’s Faculty Organization, said she has heard no evidence from the board to support its decision.
She said it is likely that faculty will return to ask the board to make cuts in athletics that equal those taken in academics.
“This is a divisive issue, and it’s not going away,” she said.