September 12, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 21

EWU's athletic gains worth more than just a check

In our opinion

Back on Aug. 31 when Vernon Adams’ touchdown run with 23 seconds remaining helped propel Eastern Washington to a stunning 49-46 upset victory over Oregon State, the news shocked the college football world.

After all, the only thing the Eagles were to leave Corvallis with besides their battered, bruised and bloodied frames in what Oregonian columnist Ken Goe has now famously termed a “body bag” game was the nearly $500,000 promised payday.

Nichols State, a fellow Football Championship Subdivision team was massacred 77-3 last year at Reser Stadium and EWU was crushed 56-17 in their 2006 visit.

Now, after the Eagles made sure there was no letdown last Saturday in their home opener, a 43-14 win over Division II Western Oregon, they hit the road for a game Saturday in Toledo, Ohio looking for more headlines against the Mid American Conference Rockets in a first-ever meeting.

As news of the Eagles’ huge win began to spread it was the talk of the talking heads not just on game day, but days after. The win was one of just four times in the past four decades that an FCS team has toppled a Top-25 Football Bowl Series team.

While the win was the talk of the football world, it was also largely the talk of the town, or make that towns.

The wearing of EWU logoed gear was an instant conversation starter well beyond the confines of the football field. “Did you watch the Eastern game?” or “What did ya’ think of Eastern yesterday,” were just a couple of threads of conversations heard by Cheney Free Press staff.

Chats lasted several minutes, not just a few seconds, and that’s the importance of what Eastern accomplished at OSU.

Eastern, as an institution of higher education, is caught in a hierarchical “pecking order” battle for attention in the region with Washington State and Gonzaga University. So when sports propels EWU into the lead from time to time that’s a good thing.

Like it was in 2010 when first, the installation of unique red turf, grabbed headlines of all kinds across the nation. And again when the Eagles followed that with their tense 20-19 national championship game win over Delaware in Frisco, Texas.

A business - and yes, Eastern is as much in the business of attracting students as is Zip’s trying to sell hamburgers - cannot get better publicity than it gets from a noteworthy accomplishment.

EWU got that from the buzz created from its football team.

Sure, there may be great things going on in the classroom, but like it or not nothing grabs headlines like this. And that recognition goes beyond just the sports fanatics. While there’s not a direct connecting of the dots, maybe this is one of the tipping points for a high school student in New Jersey, Ohio or California to check out that school in Cheney, Wash. and find that Eastern has nationally-renown programs and is one of the best bargains in higher education.

One only has to look down the road to Gonzaga and the national recognition its basketball team has earned over the past 20 years.

Those at the school will tell you that the headlines the Bulldogs have made not only pushed students their way, but more importantly, helped donations skyrocket and the huge building boom take place.

And like Eastern, which not all that long ago was part of a plan to be absorbed into Washington State, Gonzaga was once not that far from potentially closing its doors due to dwindling enrollment.

As Eastern strives to separate itself from the higher-ed pack, the win and $450,000 payday EWU athletics realized out of their trip to Corvallis is much bigger than a nice entry in the checkbook.

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