Alums and donors need to pick up the slack if EWU athletics is going to take the next step

The Team Behind The Teams EWU Athletic Fund Brochure | Courtesy EWU Athletic Department website

“The Team Behind The Teams” EWU Athletic Fund Brochure | Courtesy EWU Athletic Department website

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

While the teams of Eastern Washington University continue to fly high in their respective sports, the facilities in which they use continue to lag behind in terms of quality. It truly is a disservice to the athletes of EWU, as the product being put out on the field is not being rewarded.

When looking at it compared to the rest of the Big Sky Conference, the division in which all EWU athletics participate in, the difference between other member schools and EWU is vast when it comes to monetary resources.

As Jim Allen of The Spokesman-Review notes, EWU as a university is at a level far below its Big Sky peers for endowments.

“Eastern’s total endowment – the product of private donations – is only $18.6 million, easily the lowest in the Big Sky. By comparison, Montana’s endowment is $170 million and Idaho’s is $240 million. The Big Sky average is about $80 million.”

Frankly, that disparity is laughable — in the worst way possible when you consider the success of Eastern athletics. Beginning with the largest generator of revenue, the EWU football team has been a force of domination within the conference.

Since 2010, EWU has won 51 Big Sky games (including this year). That includes an FCS national championship as well, the pinnacle of the sport. Four members of last year’s squad went onto the NFL, with wide receivers Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams), Kendrick Bourne (San Francisco 49ers), Shaq Hill (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and defensive lineman Samson Ebukam (Los Angeles Rams) all playing at the next level.

In basketball, the men’s team has performed well too. The team has compiled a 62-48 Big Sky record the past six seasons, with one conference championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Forward Jacob Wiley, a graduate-student transfer whose stellar 2016 season was his lone at EWU, is now on the Brooklyn Nets roster as a two-way player.

Women’s soccer has recently reemerged onto the EWU athletic scene. Since head coach Chad Bodnar took over, EWU is 16-10 in Big Sky play and has one conference tournament championship and one regular-season conference championship under their belts. Senior forward Chloe Williams just broke the Big Sky record this season for most points and most goals in a career.

In running, there has been success as well. Recent graduate Sarah Reiter, class of 2017, was a top-level runner during her time at EWU. Reiter competed as an individual at the NCAA Cross Country Championships on two separate occasions in 2016 and 2017. Prior to her arrival, EWU only had four total appearances at the NCAA meet.

What I am trying to get at is that EWU athletics are no fluke — across the board, there have been scores of phenomenal team and individual performances. And as of recent, the success of Eastern athletes has been significant. Yet, the athletic facilities in which they train in are not of high standards. If these facilities are not updated soon, that very well could turn into a deterrent for prospective student-athletes. Right now, EWU has a tradition of winning to build on. But that could change soon if changes to facilities are not implemented in the fear future.

That is just the name of the game now for universities across the nation — the design of the infrastructure really matters to these athletes. It may seem frivolous to some, but if an athlete does not like the school’s gym, that could play a role in determining whether or not that individual ends up attending that school.

Currently, EWU is attempting to improve facilities. In May 2017, the university hired the Phoenix Philanthropy Group of Arizona as a consultant to help with its efforts to improve the athletic facilities, focusing on philanthropic methods.

“Peter Smits is kind of the lead,” said EWU athletic director Bill Chaves. “They [the university] hired him for a year to evaluate a number of things — some things within the foundation in fundraising globally, and the other piece was to identify where we are as far as the potential of athletic facility fundraising.”

And that is where the issue at heart lies—fundraising, or the lack thereof. Historically, EWU has struggled with raising money. The school typically relies on the state legislature or student fees.

The football team has played nearly 50 years at Roos Field, and there has yet to be a major overhaul to the area. That is unacceptable.

The students, who are already being ravaged by exorbitant tuition costs and student fees, are already footing the bill for a renovation of the Pence Union Building. Asking any more is adding insult to injury.

So donors, it is time you step up your game. You want EWU athletics to continue its winning ways? Put money back into the school. No more waiting around for legislation, and no more relying on student fees.