On-the-field success isn’t reaping off-the-field rewards

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

Despite a string of successful years for Eastern athletes and teams, the state of the affairs for the school’s athletic department is grim. As it stands, the future is shaping up to be a tumultuous one for EWU athletics.

Bill Chaves was just hired away to the University of North Dakota to be their athletic director, leaving EWU in a time of financial hardship. That is not meant as a swipe to Chaves — no harm in wanting to move on. But the reality remains; the athletic department is now fighting an uphill battle.

Since being hired in 2007, Chaves has overseen the installation of Roos Field, as well as other upgrades to facilities, and EWU athletics has experienced unprecedented success both on and off the field, punctuated by Eastern teams posting a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 for 31-straight quarters.

Not to mention, EWU was a three-time winner of the Big Sky President’s Cup under Chaves, the first time the school had won the award.

EWU football won the FCS National Championship in 2010; they also won five Big Sky titles and qualified for the playoffs six times under Chaves’ reign. Women’s basketball appeared in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament three times and won their first ever postseason game in 2015, while men’s basketball made the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and won their first ever postseason game in 2016.

The list goes on and on, including excellent hires made at head coaching positions across sports, including former head football coach Beau Baldwin, current soccer head coach Chad Bodnar, and former men’s basketball’s coach Jim Hayford, to name a few.

It can be logically argued that EWU is one of the top FCS schools. The past decade, which encompasses Chaves’ tenure, is where the growth of athletics for the school has occurred.

Now, Chaves is off to the Midwest to lead the Fightin’ Hawks.

And it comes at a time of peril, financially, for the Eagles. The Spokesman-Review reported earlier this week that EWU is facing a $5.8 million budget deficit. Coupled with the fact that the school was already in the midst of a search for alternative fundraising methods, the financial outlook is dreary at best.

That search, which began last year and is being headed by the Phoenix Philanthropy Group, offers the possibility of real impact. But that will not happen for some time. The deficit is a current issue that requires immediate addressing.

The Spokesman-Review is also reporting that football may have one less home game in 2018. Why does that matter in terms of finances? Because EWU would likely replace the home game, scheduled for Sept. 1, with a guaranteed-money game against an FBS opponent. The opposing team would pay EWU a certain amount of money, likely several hundred thousand dollars, to come play them at their stadium. It would provide a healthy financial boost to the athletic department, but a loss in that game could harm EWU football’s postseason hopes.

EWU President Dr. Mary Cullinan will first be naming an interim director later this week. Then the strenuous process of finding a successor for Chaves will begin, which will be lengthy.

All of this means that significant changes for the EWU athletic department are probably far away in the future. Those away stands at Roos Field? The ones that look like you would find at a high school? Yeah, those will be there for quite some time. The fieldhouse where all the athletes are quartered? Where it looks like it was built 40 years ago? Not going anywhere.

The school—which historically has had issues with fundraising—now is in search of an athletic director and carries a significant budget deficit while it searches for new philanthropic endeavors.

If this on-the-field success is to continue for the foreseeable future, then actual change has to be brought forth. No more hollow statements of future promises. Action is needed, real tangible plans. Because right now, Eastern fans reserve the right to be upset.