Contact: Paul Cocke, Director, University Communications (360) 650-3350; cell: (360) 303-6009
BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University officials announced today that its football program is ending, following a careful evaluation to determine how best to ensure the excellence of all University intercollegiate sports.
"I have made this decision with a heavy heart as I am well aware of the profound consequences it has on the student-athletes on the football team, their dedicated and hard-working coaches, and on our passionate supporters on campus, in the community and region and on our alumni," said Western President Bruce Shepard.
"I feel strongly that we need to offer a high-quality program of intercollegiate athletics that is commensurate with our status as a premier university. It is the focus on maintaining overall intercollegiate program quality and doing so at a time when we and all universities are being challenged financially that drives the recommendation of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and my decision to accept that recommendation," Shepard said.
Athletics expenditures have grown more rapidly than revenues over recent years, due in part to increased travel costs, field rentals and a relatively flat growth in gift and donation dollars. This has been compounded by additional budget reductions and the more recent substantial cuts facing the University. Among all the options considered, the only way to ensure Western can maintain a strong program of intercollegiate athletics is to eliminate football.
Another key consideration was the prohibitive cost of running a NCAA Division II football program with the lack of geographically close opponents. Western was one of just five Division II schools that sponsor football in the western United States, including the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Nevada. The Vikings played a home-and-home schedule with the other four schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. This past season was the third time in five seasons the Vikings played GNAC opponents twice.
Eileen Coughlin, vice president for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services, said that Western's 15 other intercollegiate sports will not be adversely affected and, in fact, will be better protected as the University faces significant budget cuts.
"At Western, the current degree of success in intercollegiate athletics is noteworthy given that programs are stretched very thinly. Ending the football program will allow intercollegiate athletics to meet budget reduction targets, and, most importantly, to protect the quality of the remaining intercollegiate sports," Coughlin said. "The recommendation for this decision emerged as a result of careful consideration of all options with a primary focus on our mission of engaged excellence in all aspects of our programs. Western is committed to excellence and in some cases in order to protect quality it means making difficult decisions to meet that commitment."
The coaches and players were recently notified by University officials that the football program had ended. All current student-athletes will be allowed to retain their scholarships if they remain in school and those transferring to other schools will be eligible to play immediately. The other member schools of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) were also notified of Western's decision.
"In my 22 years as director of athletics at Western, this is by far the toughest decision that I have been a part of," said WWU Director of Athletics Lynda Goodrich. "Once the decision was made, we wanted to make this announcement as soon as possible to allow our players with eligibility remaining to look for new schools, our coaches to look for new job opportunities, and for prospects we were recruiting to reassess the choices available to them."
"Football was a big part of my decision to come to Western," said Hoyt Gier, a wide receiver for Western from 1975 to 1978 and a member of the University's Athletic Hall of Fame. "I feel terrible about the program coming to an end, and feel especially bad for the student-athletes here to play football.
"But to anyone with an eye on college athletics in general and at Western specifically, it comes as no surprise how much it costs to run a football program and how those costs impact the entire athletic department. Unfortunately, the University finds itself in a position of needing to eliminate football in order to maintain the health of all other intercollegiate sports. I don't think you can take any more out of the budget and maintain a decent program," said Gier, president of the WWU Foundation Board of Directors.
Football began at Western in 1903 with the only stoppages being four years during World War I from 1917 to 1920 and three years during World War II from 1943 to 1945.
The Vikings played 797 games during their 98 seasons of competition, having a 50.2 winning percentage with a record of 383-380-34. They won seven or more games in 13 campaigns, eight of those from 1989 to 2001.
Western made five national playoff appearances, all during the 1990s. The school's best season was in 1996 when the Vikings reached the championship game of the NAIA Division II playoffs.
The Vikings finished 6-5 in 2008, winning 25-10 over Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl on Dec. 6 at St. George, Utah, after placing second in the GNAC standings.