The reaction among Eastern Washington University football players and coaches was upbeat but cautious on Tuesday after learning the NCAA had overturned its original decision to ban the Eagles football team from postseason play.
“Obviously, everyone involved is going to be a little bit excited,” second-year head coach Beau Baldwin said after informing team members of the NCAA’s verdict that clears the way for the Eagles to play in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, should they qualify.
“But it goes right back to, ‘OK, now what do we have to do to beat Portland State this weekend?’ because without that, the decision means nothing.”
The Eagles, who are 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Sky Conference, will travel to Seattle this weekend to take on league rival Portland State (2-6, 1-4) at Qwest Field – perhaps with a new sense of urgency, considering 8-3 teams have made the playoffs in the past.
While confirming the lifting of the postseason ban, EWU athletic director Bill Chaves added that the NCAA’s mandated three-year probationary period and the university’s self-imposed penalties that resulted from a series of infractions that occurred from 2003 to 2007 under former head coach Paul Wulff remain in effect.
Tuesday’s announcement eliminates the cloud of uncertainty that has dogged the football program’s postseason eligibility status since the school formally appealed the ban in February.
The university self-reported its football program’s violations to the NCAA in February of 2007 and then self-imposed several penalties, most of which directly affected the areas of the program that had been found complicit.
Among those were a three-year cutback in scholarship equivalencies from the NCAA limit of 63 to 61 and the elimination of one coaching position. In addition, the university agreed to limit its recruitment of known academic nonqualifiers to its football program for that same three-year period.
The NCAA, following its own two-year investigation, subsequently determined that the sheer number of violations – all of which were considered minor – was enough to qualify as a major infraction that also warranted three years of probation and a one-year ban on postseason play in 2009.
EWU appealed the postseason ban.
Chaves said he believed the degree to which the infractions affected EWU’s competitive advantage played a big role in the NCAA’s verdict.
Wulff, who left EWU following the Eagles’ 2007 playoff run to become the head coach at Washington State, praised the NCAA decision.
“It’s the right thing,” he said, adding he didn’t think the postseason ban was warranted in the first place. “So I think this brings things back where it all should have been from Day One.”
In its official statement explaining the reasons behind its decision on Eastern’s appeal, the NCAA confirmed as much.