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FCS football could be on the chopping block at Eastern Washington

The days of playing football at Eastern Washington could be short lived.

Faculty at the school is pushing for significant budget cuts to the Eagles’ athletic department according to a new report obtained by The Inlander. At the heart of the issue? The football program.

The report analyzed the cost of the athletics program to be around $12 million to $14 million per year, but says it has had “no positive impact on our student enrollment, retention or recruitment.” It was commissioned by the faculty senate and has been sent to the EWU administration, including President Mary Cullinan. At the end of the month, it will be presented to the EWU Board of Trustees.

The faculty report says that it “aims to weigh the costs and benefits of funded varsity intercollegiate athletics” at EWU. In 2019, EWU athletics spent $18.3 million, and $13.5 million came from the university through either direct institutional support, student fees or indirect institutional support. (That $18.3 million is a little bit inflated, however, since that was during the football team’s run to the national championship game.)

“The Board of Trustees has asked that we be a Division I FCS program,” athletic director Lynn Hickey told the paper. “I was hired to do that and we’re going to work very very hard to do that until the Board of Trustees changes their mind.”

Among the options presented by the faculty report include a host of football-centric moves designed to cut millions from the annual athletics budget. This includes everything from dropping the sport entirely to dropping down to Division II or even the NAIA level. Such undertaking could trim between $5 million to $12 million off the total budget for the school.

Obviously that would be a worst-case scenario for many EWU fans. The team is among the most successful FCS programs not named North Dakota State for much of the past decade and is known well beyond the Pacific Northwest for their famous red turf at Roos Field. The Eagles started out at the NAIA level back in the day and made their way up to the Division I ranks in 1983. They have since become one of the flagship football teams in the Big Sky, which they’ve been a member of since 1987, and are a regular opponent of FBS teams during non-conference games.

Everything is still in the early stages and this is just a report commissioned by the faculty that, so far, hasn’t had anybody from the Eastern Washington administration pushing for anything drastic. Still, it goes to show you that for all the millions being thrown around by Power Five schools, life doesn’t come easy on the gridiron for those at the lower levels of Division I.