Western Washington football players were lifting weights Thursday morning, their sights set on next season.
A couple of hours later the weight of the world came down on them when they attended a mandatory meeting and were told the school was dropping football.
“Obviously, I’m mad about it,” said Erick Cheadle, a freshman from Ferris. “I really wanted to play. I was looking forward to next year. I thought I was going to get some playing time. Sad, confused, I don’t know what to do.”
There are a handful of area players at the Bellingham school, plus graduate assistant coach Casey Clifton, a University graduate who just finished an outstanding playing career at Whitworth.
The players – sophomore Anthony Zackery (Ferris) and freshmen Adrian Milsap (Ferris), McKenzie Murphy (Ferris), Will Davis (Central Valley) and David Johnson (Odessa) – were told they could have their scholarship as long as they attend the school.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Murphy said. “To me, education is first, so I’m weighing my options. I don’t know if I see myself playing anywhere, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Players who transfer to other schools won’t have to sit out a year to be eligible.
Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said the players he talked to were “in shock. Nobody saw it coming. They kept it tight-lipped.”
He called coaches at Central Washington, a rival member in the five-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and was told it “caught them off guard, too.”
“I’m shocked and disappointed,” Central Valley coach Rick Giampietri said.
“… It’s a good place for young kids that want to pursue football, that aren’t Division I athletes, to still be able to compete.”
Washington State coach Paul Wulff, who faced the Vikings while at Eastern Washington, echoed those sentiments.
“It’s unfortunate for all the current athletes and all the former players in the history over the university,” he said. “I think the university will be affected by this forever. Not academically, but spiritually and culturally it will be different not having the sport.”
With fewer football scholarship opportunities available in-state, Wulff said it could help the talent pool for walk-ons at WSU.
“At Eastern, we felt there were several players, at Central and Western, that could have played, but we didn’t have the money or roster space,” he said. “What their options are now are to walk on at Washington State, Washington or Eastern Washington. It’s very unfortunate for kids. There are less opportunities out there for them to play.”
According to GNAC commissioner Richard Hannan, the other football-playing schools in the conference – Central, Humbolt State of Arcata, Calif., Dixie State of St. George, Utah, and Western Oregon – plan to keep their programs.
“We’re moving forward,” said Hannan, who has been the commissioner since the league’s inception eight years ago. “We had four football schools for several years. While it’s difficult, we’re going to keep working. It makes the expansion issue much more critical from a time standpoint.”
The NCAA has approved a way for Canadian schools to become members. Hannan said Simon Fraser and British Columbia are considering it.
“There are a couple of other options I’m not at liberty to discuss,” he said. “Hopefully, one or two of those come about. Not just football. We want to improve our total situation.”
He said in addition to the normal high cost of football, what really hurt was the travel expense with no other Division II teams on the West Coast.
Humbolt and Dixie are not in the conference for other sports. The non-football schools are Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin’s, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, Montana State- Billings and Northwest Nazarene.
“We hope this is the only thing,” Hannan said. “We’re all going to go through tough economic times the next few years, no doubt about it. The football schools have indicated they’re going to move forward without dropping programs. We think this is going to be an isolated situation.”
Meanwhile, the players have to decide what they want to do.
“I’m all right; just fighting through it,” Murphy said. “It was a surprise, but you know, you can’t do much about it. Some people are thinking about protesting, but I don’t know what good that’s going to do.
“One reason I came to Western is athletics. I liked the program and could still get a good education. If an offer like that comes, I’d definitely jump on it.”
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