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Success, location, money complicate Eastern Washington’s ability to schedule

North Dakota State latched on to the challenge of playing Eastern Washington last Saturday in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
North Dakota State latched on to the challenge of playing Eastern Washington last Saturday in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

As Eastern Washington flies across the country Thursday in search of its first football win of the season, it’s fair to wonder when the Fordham Rams will return the favor.

The answer: never.

Saturday’s game in New York is a one-and-done, with no return engagement in Cheney. That’s happened before, in 2011 with South Dakota, and with money games against FBS competition.

For a financially challenged school such as Eastern, the formula is pretty much the same for an 11-game schedule: one big payday (Texas Tech compensated the Eagles $475,000 to come to Lubbock), a home game against an FCS team (that was North Dakota State this year) and another FCS road game (Fordham).

That means a steady diet of six games on the road and five at home. Flipping the script is problematic.

“There’s a couple of ways these things (home-and-home series) occur,” Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves said. “You find someone who wants to play home and home or you pay for someone to come in.

“The latter is relative to what your financial situation is and the size of your stadium. We’ve gone with the latter.”

The Eagles have three things going against them when chasing home-and-home series against other FCS teams: money, geography and the Eagles’ success on the field.

Top-tier FCS programs such as NDSU, Northern Iowa (which played EWU in 2015-16) and Sam Houston State (2013-14) don’t flinch at the challenge.

Not so for the lesser lights. For example, Southland Conference minnow Incarnate Word played last weekend at Sacramento State but wouldn’t be persuaded to play at Roos Field.

“Given the success we’ve had, there’s probably only a dozen schools in FCS that will consider a home and home with us,” said Chaves, who added that over the last few years “there’s not a school in the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones that I have not spoken to.”

The most practical – if a bit tedious – approach is to schedule Big Sky Conference teams for designated nonconference games. The Eagles did that in 2014-15 with Montana State and will do the same with Northern Arizona in 2018 and 2020.

Chaves is still seeking a nonconference home game to open the 2018 season.

In the meantime, this year’s Eagles can’t catch a break. Texas Tech had a bye week following the Eastern game, allowing the Red Raiders to ignore advance planning and focus on the Eagles. It’s the same with NDSU, which has this week off.

Looking further down the schedule, Sacramento State and UC Davis both have byes following their games against Eastern on Sept. 30 and Oct. 6, respectively.

Meanwhile, as EWU was being pummeled by the Bison, Fordham played lowly Central Connecticut.

And while the Eagles are three time zones away, their next opponent, Montana, is home against another FCS bottom-feeder, Savannah State.

That’s money talking. Thanks to the gate receipts at 26,000-seat Washington-Grizzly Stadium, the Griz are in position to regularly play six games at home and get their pick of the opposition.

They also need fewer money games to balance the budget. The Griz were at Washington last week, but that’s only their second Power-5 opponent in the last decade (EWU has played nine in the same period).

Montana will flex its monetary muscles again next weekend as it nears completion of the privately funded, $14 million Washington-Grizzly Champions Center.