Eastern Washington University faculty members have prepared a report that suggests the athletics department budget be cut or eliminated entirely.
As reported by inlander.com, the report released earlier this month analyzed the cost of the athletics program to be around $12 million to $14 million per year, but says it has had "no positive impact on our student enrollment, retention or recruitment."
Eliminating the athletics department was just one of many suggestions laid out as an "alternative model" for athletics in the report, which was commissioned by the faculty senate and has been sent to the EWU administration, including President Mary Cullinan. The others include imposing budget cuts on athletics, eliminating only football, or transitioning to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA Division II or Division III.
The report will be presented to the EWU Board of Trustees by the end of the month.
EWU has seen enrollment decline in recent years, forcing the university to approve last June a $3.6 million budget cut for 2020. David Syphers, an assistant professor of physics and report co-author, says that because of the budget cuts, faculty have been interested in looking at what the benefits of the athletics department are, considering it's a large part of the budget. "We view this report as the beginning," Syphers told Insider. "It's not an endpoint."
The faculty report says that it "aims to weigh the costs and benefits of funded varsity intercollegiate athletics" at EWU. In 2019, EWU athletics spent $18.3 million, and $13.5 million came from the university through either direct institutional support, student fees or indirect institutional support. (That $18.3 million is a little bit inflated, however, since that was during the football team's run to the 2019 FCS national championship game.)
The report's analysis says that despite EWU's football success in the past decade, it has had no impact on enrollment or retention. "Athletics has benefits," it says. "But so do those areas of the university being deprived of funds." It points out that, "74 percent of the budget of athletics is money coming from the institution that could be spent elsewhere," in addition to an extra $2 million per year allocated to the department.
Ticket sales, meanwhile, made up 3.7 percent of expenses of athletics, according to the report, and alumni contributions only made up 4.5 percent. The report argues that there are other needs that should be prioritized before athletics. Faculty members are concerned that the university is not replacing retirees, that there are rising course fees for students, and that the reorganization of certain departments has been a burden.
The report identifies alternatives for the future of EWU athletics. The first option is eliminating the department entirely, which the report says would amount to savings of $11 million to $14 million per year. The next three options involve transitioning to the NAIA, an alternative to the NCAA, which could save $7 million to $12 million per year, according to the faculty analysis. Moving to Division III would save the same amount roughly, and becoming a Division II school would save about $5 million to $7 million per year. The report then examines what would happen if EWU maintained its Division I status, but eliminated football. That would save up to $3.5 million per year.
"This choice would anger a few vocal fans, but would show Eastern as standing up for the principles we publicly espouse: That we are here to help our students learn and successfully launch careers," the report states, calling the elimination of football a "moral" choice. "We are not here to have them trade brain damage for a reduced-cost education."
EWU athletic directory Lynn Hickey urged caution, as the administrators review the report's contents in the coming weeks, telling Inlander, "I think what you've got to be careful about when you see a report like this is that just putting together a narrative around numbers that you pull from charts and graphs can be interpreted in different ways, without maybe the full context of the program and how we fit in the university and community."