Is EWU going to cut athletics?
That question has been stirring around social media in the past couple of weeks in the wake of a faculty organization report written by four members of the EWU faculty senate: Dr. David Syphers, Dr. David Bunting, Robert Dean and Anthony Flinn.
The report stirred controversy and campus discussion by presenting the findings of an investigation conducted by the report’s authors and asking for an evaluation of seven possible alternative models for the athletic department. The seven models presented were eliminating athletics entirely, moving to Division II, III or NAIA, cutting the football team, creating severe cuts to the athletic department or maintaining the status quo.
Meanwhile, EWU has repeatedly announced on social media that it has no plans of cutting athletics and will be remaining a Division I program. Athletic director Lynn Hickey confirmed this stance to The Easterner.
“I’ve been hired to be a Division I FCS athletic director and to oversee this program, and that’s what we are continuing to do,” Hickey said.
Hickey said the athletic department doesn’t agree with the report, but respects Syphers and his team’s right to investigate the department and its financial happenings.
“This is not a university-commissioned report; it’s an ad hoc committee,” Hickey said. “We respect the work of our faculty … and they have the right to investigate and to report on things that they think will be of help to the university.”
Syphers, the main author of the report and a physics professor and dean at EWU, said the main goal of the report was to start a conversation about the money allocated to athletics in the wake of EWU’s ongoing budget issues. “Eastern is in some difficult budget times right now,” Syphers said. “We’re looking at cuts, and we’re looking at drawing things back because of a tight budget. We wanted to ask the question, ‘how can we do that in a way that best preserves the entire institution and best preserves the student experience?’ … It looked like people weren’t considering athletics very closely, so we’re adding one piece to the puzzle.”
Syphers will be presenting the report at the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Feb. 27. Syphers said his team hopes the Board will consider an independent review from a team outside the university of the athletic department’s finances in comparison to the university’s budget state.
Hickey also said there hasn’t been any face-to-face communication between the authors of the report and the athletic department in the wake of the report’s release. The only communication occurred during the investigation when the athletic department answered Syphers’s questions via email.
Hickey said the report merely focused on data, and didn’t reflect the entire picture and value of athletics to EWU.
“There are some things that you can be black and white (about); it costs this much, and therefore this is the value,” Hickey said. “But there are a lot of things that we’re involved (in) that are intangible … the engagement, the increased visibility, its engagement. I don’t know how you put a dollar price on that, and I don’t think any of that was really ventured into very well.”
Hickey also disagreed with the report’s comments about student fees going into athletics. The report’s executive summary says, “(It’s) an allocation not subject to student control or vote.”
“We don’t have an athletic fee,” Hickey said. “That is not correct. We are a part of the student service fee, and I have to present to a committee of students every year. It’s their call. It’s not our call.”
Hickey stated 40% of the direct university support that athletics receives goes right back to the university.
“When we’re supported by the university for scholarships, that all goes back to tuition fees, dining and housing,” Hickey said. “Just like on the student service fee, we can use that for operations.”
Hickey said the athletic department gives $450,000 from the student service fee back in student wages.
“That’s a lot of income back into the pocket of the university,” Hickey said.
The executive summary of the report says, “based on analysis of data provided to the committee, athletics has no positive impact on our student enrollment, retention or recruitment.” Syphers said this conclusion was drawn after analyzing the correlation between the football team’s record and EWU’s enrollment. Syphers said the football team’s success didn’t positively impact enrollment, even after EWU won the national championship in 2010.
“That’s the maximum visibility we can get from football, (and) it had no impact on enrollment at all,” Syphers said.
Hickey said a cut to athletics wouldn’t just impact EWU negatively, but would also have a negative impact on Cheney.
“What happens to Cheney if you don’t have those five or six football games?” Hickey said. “That’s nothing to put aside for those businesses in the city … The Holiday Inn is booked right now for next year during football season. They don’t have any rooms.”
Hickey also said that EWU maintains its stance that athletics is merely the front door to the university, but academics is the “whole house.”
“All we’re doing is inviting people in and getting them in the house so they can get further engaged with the university,” Hickey said. “Instead of worrying what the costs are, why not use us as an asset and better leverage this to help the university grow?”
The report makes no recommendation on which of the seven models it would prefer EWU to move toward. Syphers said his personal opinion on a preferred model is irrelevant to the discussion.
“My personal preference doesn’t matter. What I wanted to do was lay out every option I could think of, from one extreme to the other.” -Dr. David Syphers, EWU Physics professor and Dean
Syphers also said he doesn’t want any cuts to athletics to have to be made, but said he thinks it’s a discussion EWU needs to have.
Ultimately, Syphers hopes that students and non-students alike take the time to read the report before forming an opinion.
“I think the issue that I’m dealing with right now is the students, and perhaps the public at large are not getting a clear picture of what our report was,” Syphers said. “A lot of the people commenting have not read the report … I would encourage people to read the report, not just make comments about it. Some things have been taken out of context.”
Syphers hopes to have an informed conversation with students about the report.
“I think the students are the single most important voice in this conversation,” Syphers said. “But it needs to be an informed conversation … once we have an informed conversation, I want the students to be the loudest voice in the room.” •