Facing a $5 million dollar deficit with it's athletics budget, Eastern Washington University in Cheney commissioned a study to examine ways to stabilize and strengthen it's athletic programs.

EWU is considered one of the stronger NCAA Division I (top tier) schools in the country; they've won a number of Big Sky Conference football and basketball titles. The basketball team has made the NCAA Men's tournament several times (March Madness) and in 2010 the football team won the NCAA Division I FCS title. They're also known for their signature red turf, known as The Inferno. (it's hot in summer, I've been on it.)

The Board of Trustrees were presented last Friday with a report with four options from Reno, Nevada based PITCOR Market Research Group.

The four options most feasible are (according to the Spokesman Review):

•" Option A: Remain in NCAA Division 1 in the Big Sky Conference with football.

• Option B: Remain in NCAA Division 1 without football, requiring a move to another athletic conference. (drop football, keep all others).

• Option C: Reclassify as NCAA Division 2.

• Option D: Reclassify as NCAA Division 3."

Option One would also involve reinvesting in the athletic department, generating a number of additional revenue streams.

Option B would involve dropping football, and require them to join either the West Coast Conference (with Gonzaga) or the Western Athletic Conference; but both of those would require a lot more long distance travel and related expenses. To stay in Big Sky, they would have to keep football.

Option C would drop them to the same level, NCAA Division II, as Central WA University in Ellensburg. They would either join the Great Northwest Athletic Conference or the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Travel would also be a factor, CWU is the only Division II football school in WA or OR.

Option D would involve them returning to their 'roots,' as they would drop to NCAA Division III and join the Northwest Conference. The NWC has 8 smaller schools in WA and OR, including Whitworth U, PLU, University of Puget Sound; as well as Linfield, George Fox, Pacific, Willamette, and Lewis & Clark in Oregon. Prior to their joining the NCAA in 1977 and the Big Sky in 1987, EWU was an NAIA school (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) which is like NCAA Division III.

EWU used to play most of these smaller schools for decades. From 1901 to 1980 they played Whitworth 64 times, Pacific Lutheran 42 games, Southern and Eastern Oregon, Montana Tech and Oregon Tech several dozen times as well.

There are over 230  Division III schools in the U.S. by far the most in the NCAA.

EWU plays in what's called the Football Championship Series, used to be called NCAA Division I-AA, as is the Big Sky Conference (Idaho, Montana, Montana State, Idaho State etc.)  They and the rest of the lower levels have playoff systems, not the bowl games like Division I (WSU, UW, USC, Alabama, Penn State etc).

However, if they dropped to lower classifications, the NCAA matching money drops as well. EWU gets a lot more supporting money (from TV especially) for being a Division I school.

The school took no action immediately, but continues to study the options. Dropping football would be a tough blow to student athletes from the Tri-Cities area, dozens of athletes have played at EWU from our high schools. For example, over the last 3 years alone, Kamiakin has sent at least 7 players to Cheney.

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