Addition of softball team at EWU

By Bron Wickum, Contributing Writer

EWU spent the last 20 years attempting and planning to bring in a softball program; plans have paused and only time will tell if the sport will see an emergence.

Eastern athletics had a brutal year in 1982 as summer budget cuts discontinued six sports — four men’s, two women’s. Baseball was cut the following year because at the time EWU was making a push to become a part of the Big Sky Conference. The football team moved from Joe Woodward Field and started playing at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane to conform to the guidelines of the Big Sky Conference.

Getting into the Big Sky Conference was a big deal for Eastern at the time because it would mean membership into the NCAA, which was a huge step in the school’s athletic growth. “Those things develop, but expansion is not a critical issue facing us right now,” former Big Sky Conference commissioner Ron Stephenson (1981-1995) said.

EWU finally broke into the conference in 1987, and the NCAA began having certification cycles every 10 years in order to make changes and plan out steps moving forward for athletics, which included initiating new sports. The NCAA held its first certification cycle meeting in 1997, and it was suggested that Eastern should generate a new women’s sport as part of Title IX and as a way to provide more scholarship opportunities for female student-athletes.

In the second certification cycle meeting in 2007, the school composed a plan to use its 2009-2011 budget cycle to save enough money for a new program. Since then the certification cycles have gone extinct because of the amount of cooperation and extra time it would take to compile invformation over a 10-year span.

In 2012 Eastern released a five-year strategic plan that served as a blueprint of how the university was working on adding a softball team by 2017. Those plans have not happened and will not happen until the school has enough funding for a field and a facility.

“The urgency isn’t there as much as it once was,” said Pamela Parks, senior associate athletic director. When the state was unable to allocate capital for schools, Eastern was forced to pause its plans. Parks also said the reason the school needed a new field was because there was no NCAA-caliber field in the area, not even in Spokane, thus making traveling costs higher as well.

In January 2013, Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves provided an update on the plan and progress for the program for the board of trustees. The athletic department and President’s Advisory Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics (PACIA) worked together to present the best options for a new women’s sport to the university president. The report indicated Eastern wanted to bring in a softball program.

Chaves also detailed that softball was chosen based on a sports interest survey conducted in fall 2011. Faculty disbursed 3,300 surveys to local middle schools high school and Eastern students and collected nearly 2,000 responses over two years. The most popular sports were softball, swimming, rowing and diving. PACIA contributed a criteria report for each of the sports, which included start-up costs, annual costs, scholarship and championship opportunities as well as recruitment prediction analytics throughout Washington state high schools for each sport.

Of the sports chosen from the popularity survey, softball had the most hurdles to jump over. A softball field would have to be built on top of adding coaches, scholarship money and equipment. The university was on board to proceed with adding softball on the account that the state would provide enough capital to build a stadium, but the state could not find the funds. Hence plans have been put on hold.

Eastern’s athletic department is almost at the end of its strategic five-year plan and a new plan is due out in 2018.