Cheney Free Press -

New AD hire should mean different approach at EWU

In Our Opinion


January 25, 2018

With news that the occupant of the athletics director’s chair at Eastern Washington University will be changing in the near future, now is the perfect time to reexamine what the time ahead looks like for the institution.

As Bill Chaves, the AD for the past 10-plus years, departs to the University of North Dakota for greener pastures— literally with a nice raise, a much bigger department budget and figuratively overseeing teams wearing the color — Eastern knows the challenges that lie ahead.

The biggest of those is figuring out how to inject more “green” into the red. That’s not changing school colors, mind you, but working to diminish a reported $5.8 million deficit that has accrued over several years, a school spokesman indicated.

Arguably, the Chaves era has served to build the competition foundation in the headline sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer. Under Chaves, Eastern won the 2010 national championship in football. Basketball teams have had notable success in the postseason, as has soccer.

The biggest competitive success, however, rests with how these student-athletes have fared in the classroom. Eastern won three Big Sky Conference President’s Cups, awarded for outstanding achievement in the classroom and competition.

The AD search committee, we’re told, will include a broad swipe of people, involving faculty, staff, students and other members of the community.

And in the estimation of the Cheney Free Press editorial board, the new athletic leader needs to add some marketing magic to Eastern that has been tepid at best in recent years.

The new EWU AD should surround himself or herself with a solid team of people who can both shake more than spare change from the couch cushions and turn more ticket sales.

From the big donor perspective, unfortunately, the vast majority of Eastern grads still come from the days when the school was best known for turning out teachers. There are not a lot of billionaire entrepreneurs like the Bill Gates and Paul Allens who get their start at Eastern.

Interesting to note, Washington State University’s new athletics director, Patrick Chun from Florida Atlantic University, has been brought on board primarily because of his fundraising skills. As Eastern’s budget shortfall is one that was been built over time, WSU’s athletics department was $8.5 million in the red just in the last fiscal year.

While it will take time for the school and the new AD to craft the big-picture fundraising strategy, in the short term there are measures to help keep the deficit from building.

Some of that nearly $6 million in arrears can be trimmed from working to attract more fans to sports, specifically both men’s and women’s basketball.

Ever since that dramatic come-from-behind 20-19 win over Delaware in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 7, 2011, football has sold itself. Each game at Roos Field is an impromptu reunion of alums.

Basketball, on the other hand, presents sizeable marketing challenges.

Basketball is very competitive, and has been for several years. It’s a hidden gem and Eastern coaches Shantay Legans and Wendy Schuller put out quality products on their respective courts. They have to be disappointed that athletic marketing appears to not be up to the task to sell that.

No doubt about it, the school will be hard pressed to ever pry the average area basketball fan away from Gonzaga, which has had a 20-year head start, and the Bulldogs lead the Eagles bigtime in the NCAA tournament standings.

On a cold night or day, it’s still going to take a lot to convince fans, even those just down the street or road, to give up the warmth of their home and the tell-it-like-it-is call on the radio of broadcaster Larry Weir to be live at Reese Court.

But one of the easiest first steps is engaging and encouraging Eastern students to come to Reese where their admission is free.

They can begin to craft a Gonzaga-like Kennel Club atmosphere as a catalyst. Students at GU got it all going several decades ago — back when walk-up tickets were always available — before their team became the hottest sports ticket in the area.

Going forward, Eastern athletics also needs to do a better job of making Eagle hoops Cheney’s team, Medical Lake’s team, Airway Heights and Fairchild’s team. Because that 20 or so mile distance to the West Plains from Spokane can seem like 200 on some winter days.

The bottom line is this is the perfect time for Eastern to not only make another good hire, but take a different path towards its athletic future.


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