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As choices narrow, Eastern Washington all but sure to fill schedule with D-II or NAIA opponent

Eastern Washington running back Jalen Moore runs the ball against Western Oregon in 2013. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The window has all but closed on Eastern Washington’s chances of completing its football schedule against a Division I opponent.

On the bright side, the Eagles are all but guaranteed to play five home games this year.

Like a game of musical chairs, the field narrowed further over the weekend as Big Sky Conference rival Sacramento State is close to signing a deal to host NAIA school Saint Francis of Illinois on Sept. 1.

That leaves the Eagles as one of three Football Championship Subdivision schools without a complete schedule for this fall.

The others are Mississippi Valley State and Hampton. MVSU is already booked for Eastern’s open dates on Sept. 1 and Oct. 20; Hampton, located in Virginia, is playing Division II Shaw on Sept. 2, but still has an opening on Oct. 20.

Two other FCS schools, Presbyterian and Southern, are sticking to 10-game schedules.

Assuming that a cross-country trip would be cost-prohibitive for EWU or Hampton, that means the Eagles will be hosting a DII or NAIA team, preferably on Sept. 1.

However, it’s unclear how many lower-tier schools have suitable open dates.

Meanwhile, all FBS schools have filled their schedules.

Playing a lower-tier team will hurt Eastern’s strength of schedule, meaning that the Eagles will need to win a minimum of seven out of their 10 remaining games.

Even that might not be enough; last year, Eastern went 7-4 against an all-Division I schedule, yet were left out of the 24-team FCS playoff field.

Interim athletic director Lynn Hickey said she has been working on the problem since February.

Several sources have told The Spokesman-Review that EWU and Sac State were in discussions to play a non-conference game on Sept. 1, but couldn’t agree on a site.

Eastern already has a non-conference game against Big Sky team Northern Arizona on Sept. 8.

It’s unusual, but Eastern has recently hosted lower-tier opponents. In 2014, the Eagles beat visiting Montana Western 41-9. A year earlier they beat D2 Western Oregon in Cheney, 43-14.