WWU Ends Football Program; Ensures Excellence of All Other Sports

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WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

Jan. 8, 2009

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.

Western Washington cuts football program

By TIM BOOTH - Associated Press Sports Writer

To save the rest of its sports programs, Western Washington University has decided to do away with its most expensive and well-known program: football.

Western Washington announced Thursday that it was dropping its football program, a major blow to Division II football on the West Coast, where now only four schools remain.

The decision was announced after top administrators could not find another way to sustain success and remain financially sound in the Vikings' 15 other sports. WWU's athletic department is currently running a deficit and its endowments are also struggling in the weak economy.

"We are facing a dire financial crisis now and the university wasn't prepared to continue to bail us out and absorb our budget cuts and our foundation issues," WWU athletic director Lynda Goodrich said.

Western football coach Robin Ross was informed during a Thursday morning meeting with school president Bruce Shepard.

"It's like a death in the family. There's a lot of grieving that is still going on," Ross said in a phone interview shortly after meeting with his players.

The decision by Western leaves only four Division II football programs west of Colorado - Central Washington, Western Oregon, Humboldt State (Calif.) and Dixie State in Utah - all members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. There remains the possibility of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in Canada joining Division II in the next few years should the Canadian schools meet NCAA regulations and provide additional regional opponents.

Still, major travel expenditures, combined with the economic downturn, were too much for WWU. The Vikings played games in California, Utah (twice) and North Dakota last season, but in previous years played in a conference that stretched from Washington to Minnesota.

Ross said next year's schedule featured seven games in Washington.

Current football players on scholarship will continue to receive the financial help should they remain at the school. Those players looking to play elsewhere can transfer and be eligible immediately.

"We're trying to make sure that with the remaining programs that we're excellent," said Goodrich, who doesn't foresee football returning to Western. "We want to make sure we're not just average."

The school began playing football in 1903, stopping only for World War I and World War II.

The Vikings had a 383-380-34 record in 98 seasons, and reached the NAIA Division II championship game in 1996. They finished 6-5 this past season, beating Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl.

The most immediate effect could be on Western's main rival, Central Washington, which no longer will have two set games with Western and will miss out on the revenue generated by the yearly Western-Central game played at Seattle's Qwest Field.

"We just lost two easy-to-get games. It's going to be a challenge," said CWU athletic director Jack Bishop, whose program has faced financial struggles as well. "I'm not going to say it's not. Western is a huge game."

While CWU may now get its pick of the top Division II talent in the state, the decision by Western also heightens concerns that Central could face a similar decision in the coming years.

"There is always a concern," CWU coach Blaine Bennett said. "We have a very strong administration. We have strong support for football. But to say it is not a concern is naive, especially today. I think football at Central is solid, but there always a little concern."

Western Washington University drops football program

By Ben Zimmerman, Longview Daily News

Sean Marshall's phone rang all day long Thursday. "Literally," said the 1997 R.A. Long graduate. "My phone was blowing up all day." By midday, Marshall said, he would simply answer his phone and say, "Yes, I've heard."

Like many alumni of the Western Washington University football program, Marshall, a wide receiver for the Vikings from 1997 to 2001, spent his Thursday absorbing the news that the school had dropped its football program to help balance its budget.

A Division II member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, WWU began playing football in 1903, stopping only for World War I and World War II.

"I think it's a shame," said Marshall from his Seattle home. "It has always been a very solid football program with a history of national playoff appearances. A vibrant program with lots of recruits, a program with players who've gone on to the NFL. I think it is ludicrous for (Western) to close this door."

WWU made the announcement Thursday morning. University President Bruce Shepard approved the recommendation from the school's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics as a measure to ease financial burdens on the athletic department and the school, The Bellingham Herald reported Thursday.

In a press release, Shepard said that a combination of shrinking budgets and escalating costs had been causing athletic department expenditures to exceed budget allocations, creating annual deficits that totalled approximately $1 million over the past five years.

"As painful as this decision is, I do hope you see its connection to the principles you have critically reviewed and that, as a community, we are committed to in going through what continues to be a very difficult budget process," Shepard said.

"Certainly, you can see the connection to our paramount value: protecting core mission. But, also please understand the relationship to our stated value of protecting quality: in that which we choose to do in intercollegiate athletics, our priority remains to do it well. To balance the athletics budget through cuts across all programs simply would not be consistent with that principle."

Adam Perry, a 2004 R.A. Long grad and WWU senior, finished his Western football career in December by quarterbacking the Vikings to a victory in the Dixie Rotary Bowl. He will graduate this summer.

"It worked out (for me), in that way," said Perry, who this fall set single-season WWU records for passing yards, total yards, completions and completion percentage, while tying the record for touchdown passes. "It doesn't affect me, but it's still too bad."

Perry did not have any classes Thursday and had not been to campus, but "got a lot of text messages from players and coaches" as the news spread in Bellingham.

"That is who I feel the worst for," he said. "Some of my friends. Some of the coaches. They have to decide if they're going to transfer or stay and finish up school at Western."

Current athletes will keep their scholarships if they stay at Western Washington. Transfers will be eligible to play immediately at their new schools.

That's the dilemma facing players such as Sean McDonald, a redshirt freshman who was a three-time all-state lineman at Kalama.

Perry hadn't heard any rumors about the program being sacked, but said that he wasn't surprised by Thursday's news.

"Just logical thinking makes this not a big shock to me," he said. "I don't know how strongly the administration supports football. Maybe they feel that football takes away from academics?"

Marshall said that he understood the school's budgetary reasoning, but felt that the program could have been salvaged.

"I think it is a short-sighted decision," said Marshall. "I know they've probably crunched the numbers, but it has always been an issue for Western to balance its desire to be a liberal arts institution against sports, against becoming known as a `sports' school. I think you can be both.

"But there's always been a resistance to blowing out the football program," he added. "There were opportunities when I was there to make stadium enhancements and to do other things that would bring more fans, more attention and help lure more recruits. But those types of things always seemed to be met with resistance.

"I think that if we had followed the lead of other universities where the football program is the catalyst for a revenue stream that supports other programs, athletic and non-athletic, then in that light, (Western) would certainly be in a lot better position (to support the football program) than it is now."

Western football coach Robin Ross was informed during a Thursday morning meeting with school president Bruce Shepard.

"It's like a death in the family. There's a lot of grieving that is still going on," Ross said in a phone interview with The Associated Press shortly after meeting with his players.

The decision by Western leaves only four Division II football programs west of Colorado -- Central Washington, Western Oregon, Humboldt State (Calif.) and Dixie State in Utah -- all members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. There remains the possibility of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in Canada joining Division II in the next few years should the Canadian schools meet NCAA regulations and provide additional regional opponents.

Western Washington University drops its football program

Everett Herald Staff

BELLINGHAM -- Western Washington University officials announced Thursday that the school is discontinuing its football program.

The move is effective immediately.

"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," school president Bruce Shepard said.

School officials said the program's 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.

The school said in a press release that the situation "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 consideration, school officials said, was the prohibitive cost of running an NCAA Division II football program with the lack of geographically close opponents. Western was one of just five Division II schools that offer football in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Nevada. This past season was the third time in five seasons the Vikings played Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) opponents twice during the season.

Eileen Coughlin, vice president for student affairs and academic support services, said that Western's 15 other intercollegiate sports will not be affected and, in fact, will be better protected as the university faces significant budget cuts.

The current football players will be allowed to retain their scholarships if they remain in school. Those transferring to other schools will be eligible to play immediately.

"In my 22 years as director of athletics at Western, this is by far the toughest decision that I have been a part of," WWU Director of Athletics Lynda Goodrich said. "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 began at Western in 1903 with the only stoppages being four years during World War I from (1917-20), and three years during World War II from (1943-45).

A stunning end to WWU football

JOE SUNNEN - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Wide receiver Dirk Dallas thought it was a practical joke when he first learned Western Washington University was dropping its football program.

WWU alum and former football player Wade Gebers thought someone had to be pulling his leg, too, when he heard the news that after more than 100 years the school was shelving its helmets and shoulder pads.

After officials announced on Thursday, Jan. 8, that WWU would no longer field a football team due to budget constraints, it didn't take long for the news to travel far and wide.

"I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it," Dallas said in a phone interview. "I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. We'd all heard about the need for budget cuts. And we know that football is an expensive sport, but you never think something like this could really happen."

Shock, disappointment and frustration were just a few of the emotions players, coaches, alumni and fans felt as they learned the fate of the football program on Thursday.

"It's one of the most disappointing days I can imagine," Gebers said. "When I found out, it literally ripped my heart out."

WWU coach Robin Ross learned of the decision around 8:30 a.m., and then told the 100 or so players on the Vikings' roster a few hours later.

"It's a tough situation," Ross said in a phone interview. "We had our team meetings two days ago to get ready for winter conditioning. We've been out recruiting. We didn't see this coming at all. Not at all."

WWU president Bruce Shepard approved the decision on Tuesday on the recommendation of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. The move is expected to stabilize an athletic budget that has been operating at a deficit for the last five years.

"I have made this decision with a heavy heart," Shepard said in the release. "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 our passionate supporters on campus, in the community and region and on our alumni."

It was a difficult day for everyone involved in the athletics department at WWU, athletic director Lynda Goodrich said in a phone interview.

"There's a lot of gloom," Goodrich said. "It isn't the cheeriest place to be right now. As bad as we feel right now, this news is just getting out there. We haven't heard from many alumni and parents yet."

Like many parents of WWU football players, Stan Sinex was outraged by the decision. His son David Sinex, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Everett, called after the team meeting on Thursday and couldn't hold back his disappointment.

"David called me and was so upset I couldn't recognize his voice on the phone," Stan Sinex said in a phone interview. "He was just sobbing."

According to the release, players' scholarship monies will be honored by the school as long as they are enrolled at WWU, but that was little consolation on Thursday. Players also have the option of transferring to another school without facing an eligibility penalty because the school dropped the program. Ross said he and the coaching staff will work to help players find new schools if they want to keep playing.

"Right now, I'm just thinking about what I'm going to do now," Dallas said. "I'm local (from Lynden) so I have my family here and that was a big reason I came to Western. I'm just thinking about how hard this is on my teammates and friends who transferred here to play and now it's gone."

Former WWU coach Rob Smith also took the news hard. Smith spent 17 years as head coach of the Vikings before taking over at Humboldt State University in California and was as stunned as anyone when he heard the news on Thursday.

"It's just so frustrating," Smith said in a phone interview. "This is the wrong decision. WWU is a lesser institution because of this."

Western finished 6-5 this season, putting together its first winning season since 2004. The Vikings also won the Dixie Rotary Bowl and finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

Like everyone else, senior quarterback Adam Perry couldn't believe what he was hearing on Thursday. Vikings offensive coordinator Kefense Hynson tried to lighten the somber mood a little with a text message to Perry that said at least his passing records would never be broken.

"I feel for all the players and all the coaches who have worked so hard to help turn this around," Perry said. "They were working so hard and it was just taken from them."

'A lot of tears' for Western football players

BY TODD MILLES, The Tacoma News Tribune

Shortly after noon Thursday, J.D. Neumeister was in class when he received a text message from a member of the Western Washington University football coaching staff. It said to leave what he was doing immediately, and meet for an emergency meeting at the Viking Union Building.

It was there, in a sudden flash, the Peninsula High graduate learned his football-playing days at the Bellingham university were over.

School officials announced Thursday that football, after 98 seasons, was being eliminated as an NCAA Division II athletic program.

"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 our passionate supporters on campus, in the community and region and on our alumni," Western president Bruce Shepard said in a press release.

"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 athletics, and my decision to accept that recommendation."

Neumeister, a tight end who just completed his sophomore season, knew the meeting was serious when he saw Shepard and high-ranking university officials awaiting the players.

"Rumor had spread by then, and we had an idea what was going to happen," said Neumeister, one of 15 South Sound players affected. "You can imagine everyone's lives have been turned upside down, with a lot of tears."

Shepard made the official announcement to players and coaches in a meeting that lasted 15 minutes. There are 86 WWU players with eligibility remaining.

The Vikings' action leaves four football-playing schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference: Central Washington, Humboldt State, Dixie State and Western Oregon.

Because Vikings coach Robin Ross and his staff were still planning on attending the 2009 American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn., they had not met with the team on their own, but had planned to talk to players individually about their options next week, Neumeister said.

Players have two primary options: They can stay at the university and their scholarship will be honored for the duration of their education, or they can also transfer to another program without penalty.

"It's a big decision," Neumeister said. "We've invested so much into this program. It's hard to start over."

Western football began in 1903 and continued through 2008 except for stoppages (1917-20 and 1943-45) for two world wars.

The Vikings finished the 2008 season with a 6-5 record after a 25-10 victory over Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl, Dec. 6, at St. George, Utah.

Jason Stiles, a Western quarterback from 1991 to 1995 who is now a commentator for Fox Sports Net, called the decision "a slap in the face" to former players and alumni who supported the program.

Stiles said he and other notable supporters had started a grass-roots fundraising campaign two years ago that had established momentum. Those donors had approached the school's administration about funding, but were rebuked. "The university did not have a real vision about the football program, and that was the scary part," Stiles said. "It's obvious there were people in the administration who wanted football gone."

Western athletic director Lynda Goodrich called the decision the most difficult she's made in her 22 years at the school, but reasoned it was the best way to preserve the good standing of the 15 other varsity sports.

Stiles sees it differently.

"Football is the cornerstone of any athletics department," he said. "(The program's elimination) really, really threatens small-college football in the Northwest."

Western's decision surprises, shocks

Western Washington University abruptly drops football program

By Rich Myhre, Everett Herald Writer

One month after ending its 2008 season with a victory over Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl, Western Washington University announced Thursday that it is eliminating its intercollegiate football program due to budget constraints.

That decision was an absolute surprise to everyone around the program, including Vikings head coach Robin Ross. Players were notified at an afternoon meeting and the reaction, said several team members, was one of disbelief, outrage and tears.

"I was like in shock," said defensive back Dustin Adams from Lake Stevens High School. "I just heard the news, put my head down and started tearing up."

"It was horrifying," said wide receiver David McMurray of Granite Falls and Lake Stevens High School. "It brought tears to my eyes immediately."

The feeling, said defensive lineman Casey Hamlett, a graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School, "is like losing your family. ... When we were in there, it was very upsetting and shocking. We were really angry. It was like, 'Why are they taking this away from us?' There was extreme disbelief."

Athletic costs at the Bellingham school increased significantly in recent years due in part to increased travel costs, and those expenditures have not been matched by comparable increases in gift and donation dollars, WWU officials say.

Western Washington is a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, which includes Central Washington, Western Oregon, Dixie State (Utah) and Humboldt State (Calif.) for football. In 2008, the Vikings played a home-and-home schedule with the other four GNAC schools for the third time in five seasons.

"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," Western Washington president Bruce Shepard said in a statement.

"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 Lynda Goodrich, the school's athletic director.

Football players have the option of retaining their scholarships if they remain in school, or they can transfer to any other NCAA program and be eligible to play immediately.

Ross was told of the announcement Thursday morning in a meeting with Shepard, Goodrich and Eileen Coughlin, Western Washington's vice president for student affairs and academic support services. No other sports at the school are affected.

"They just said basically because of the financial state (in Washington) and with all the cuts coming down to the university, they felt like this was the only way to help get the university through these tough times," Ross said. "They said that this was the direction that had to be done. There was not a lot of, 'Can we do this, can we do that?'

"Now I'm a football coach. And if I'm told it's fourth-and-1, I say go for it. But obviously this was the decision that was made and now we have to deal with everything else that goes with it."

Ross, who has two years left on his contract, said he will focus on "making sure our coaches and players are taken care of."

"We've got some good football players here, and some of them will get very good opportunities to continue their football careers. A lot of them will be looking to transfer and get into other programs by spring practice, and we want to be available to help them with that," he said.

Hamlett said he expects to transfer so he can play next season.

"I'm a football player," he said. "It's in my blood. I just love to play the game, so I'm going to be actively looking for a spot. Where that is, I haven't the slightest idea. But my intention is to continue to play football."

Adams said he put in a phone call to new University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian on Thursday afternoon to inquire about a transfer. Sarkisian was out of the office, "so I just left a message," Adams said. "But I'm going to try to stay close to home."

McMurray is unsure about his plans because "this is all so new to me, but I'll have to start looking at it pretty soon." His grief, he added, is because "I love the program here. I love all the coaches and the players. It's like I don't want to play anywhere else."

Western Washington began its football program in 1903, with stoppages only during World War I (1917-20) and World War II (1943-45).

"It's a sad statement on our society that we're cutting out positive things for young people to do," Ross said. "It's sad those opportunities are being taken away, not only for the players we have now, but for the future players who've also had their opportunities taken away."

Sad day as Western drops football for money reasons

Steve Kelley, Seattle Times staff columnist

The meeting had been scheduled for several weeks. Western Washington football coach Robin Ross wanted to talk to school president Bruce Shepard about recruiting procedures.

Ross had recruits coming to campus this weekend and wanted to know what the president thought the administration's role should be in these visits.

In other words, when Ross walked into his 8:30 meeting Thursday morning, he was thinking about the future. In fact, he was optimistic about that future.

He had worked hard on budget-cutting issues with the football program. He had cut travel, scheduling five home games for 2009. He had a "money" game scheduled with Eastern Washington.

Ross believed he had the program headed in the right direction. The Vikings, an NCAA Division II team, won six games this season. They won the first bowl game in school history, beating Colorado Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl. He felt good about recruiting.

"Then I got into the meeting and I saw it was heading in a different direction," Ross said by telephone Thursday afternoon.

Instead of talking about the future, Ross learned that his program had no future. He was told by Shepard and athletic director Lynda Goodrich that Western Washington was dropping football. It was eliminating a program that had existed since 1903.

Ross said he felt blindsided.

"It was not something I foresaw," he said. "It was not something we had discussed. Of course, there's always budget constraints, and this is kind of a sign of the times. But it was never brought up, how we could raise more money or anything like that."

Later that morning, Ross met with his staff, then met with his players. He said it was the most painful meeting in his 32 years of coaching.

"That's where it got real emotional," he said. "It was tough seeing the expressions on the faces of the guys in that room. That was the toughest part of everything that happened today.

"I explained to them the transfer rules. I told them the school was honoring all of their scholarships until they graduated, but I also told them that this is like a tough loss. You have to bounce back. But it was a shocker for everybody. There's a lot of disappointment out there. I know there's a lot of unhappy people."

People like Jason Stiles, a quarterback at Western in the 1990s.

Stiles still remembers his first day at school, the first meeting of the football team.

"Look around the room," then-coach Rob Smith told his newest Vikings class. "You might not know anybody in here right now, but the guys in this room are going to become some of your best friends and the friendships you make in this room will be with you for the rest of your life."

Some 16 years later, Stiles understands precisely what Smith was saying. He says the friendships are part of the ancillary value of playing college football; part of the experience that can't be measured in dollars and cents, something intangible that, he believes, is necessary at Western.

"I'm furious," Stiles said. "It's been a brutal, brutal day of news. Cutting a program that is the cornerstone of the athletic department cannot be an option. It's unacceptable. Other schools like Western Oregon and Humboldt State have had budget problems, but they've found a way to keep the program going.

"I feel terrible for the kids on the team who are having their careers cut short. There are 90 kids in that program, and not all of them are going to find another school to play for."

Something had to give at Western. The crashing economy and statewide budget cuts are forcing college presidents and athletic directors to make difficult decisions.

Programs are getting re-evaluated. Sports are getting cut. Administrators are being forced into making calls they never thought they'd have to make.

Goodrich called the confluence of economic disasters that forced the university to make this decision "the perfect storm."

She said endowment cuts were so severe they were "underwater."

Some sport, or sports, had to go. By eliminating football she could save all the other sports. By dropping football, she could keep Western's athletic programs afloat in Division II.

"This was the most difficult decision I've had to make in my 22 years here," Goodrich said. "It's absolutely the toughest day I've had to go through, and I've been around a long time."

The hurt in Goodrich's voice was obvious. She understood the domino effect this would have on the coaches, the players and recruits. She was braced for the anger from alumni and people in the community.

Western's football history is rich. The school played 797 games. It made five national playoff appearances in the 1990s and made it to the NAIA Division II championship game in 1996.

Former Viking Michael Koenen is the punter in Atlanta. Dane Looker, who later transferred to Washington, is a receiver in St. Louis. And linebacker Shane Simmons was an undrafted free agent with Oakland.

"It's a really sad day," said Central Washington coach Blaine Bennett, whose football team is the state's only remaining Division II program. "It's always hard when a school loses football. I was at Chico State right before they dropped football, and it's tough.

"We've lost a great, great rival. With the Battle in Seattle at Qwest Field every year we'd developed something really special for the kids at both schools. I feel really bad for the kids and the coaching staff. I'm hoping we can find places for some of the players on their team."

As costs escalate and revenue drops, other schools are making similar difficult decisions. In Western's Great Northwest Athletic Conference, Humboldt State and Western Oregon are facing financial problems. There only are four football-playing schools left in the league.

"I'm concerned about the trickle-down effect this is going to have for the rest of the conference," Stiles said. "And I hate the fact that they made a permanent decision based on temporary economic conditions that ultimately are going to get better.

"And I don't like the fact that we weren't notified. Nobody reached out to us to let us respond. To not give the alumni and family a chance to respond is beyond me."

Ross, who has been an assistant coach at five Division I schools and in the NFL with Oakland, is 54 and says he believes he has 10 to 12 more years of coaching left in him. He also has two years left on his contract with Western.

But for Ross the grief he felt Thursday was for his assistants and his players.

"We play a good brand of football here, and I think people were starting to realize that," he said. "I just don't think it's a good answer to the [budget] problem to eliminate possible options for kids. It's a sad day, but we all have to move on."

WWU cuts football program to save money

JOE SUNNEN - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The Western Washington University football team has become the latest casuality of budget cuts in higher education across the state, school officials announced Thursday, Jan. 8.

The university is cutting the football program effective immediately in an attempt to balance an athletic department budget that has been operating at a deficit for the last five years.

Cutting the program, which has been a part of the athletic landscape at WWU for the last 100 years, should save the school around $450,000 a year in the next two to three years and help stabilize the remaining 15 intercollegiate athletic programs for the forseeable future, said Eileen Coughlin, vice president for Student Affiars and Academic Support Services.

"It was a difficult decision," Coughlin said. "Reaching this point has been kind of an evalution. Expenditures have exceeded revenue for the last five years and with budget cuts and a weakening economy, it was clear we weren't going to be able to make things work any longer. We left no stone unturned in trying to avoid this decision."

The administration has been exploring ways to reduce budget costs for months and began seriously exploring the elimination of the program in December, Coughlin said. The final decision was made two days ago and approved by University President Bruce Shepard. Coaches, players, parents and alumni were notified Thursday morning.

"It's sad," WWU coach Robin Ross said. "It's sad on a lot of levels, but the saddest thing is that kids will have one less opportunity to go to school and get some of their education paid for."

Current members of the team will be allowed to retain their scholarship monies if they choose to stay at WWU, Coughlin said. The football program had 24 full scholarships, but only a handful of players received full-ride offers. Most of the scholarships were parceled out among the 100 student-athletes on the roster.

"As a player I didn't see this coming at all," redshirt freshman Dirk Dallas said in a phone interview. "I'm just in shock right now. I can't imagine not having to lift (weights) on Thursday or not playing next fall."

WWU began playing football in 1903, and with the exception of short stoppages during World Wars I and II, had fielded a team for 98 seasons. During that span the Vikings put together a 383-380-34 record and competed at the NAIA and NCAA Division II level.

Western Washington University Drops Football Program

By Jeff Graham, Kitsap Sun

Chad Tester woke up this morning a member of Western Washington University's football team.

A few hours later, he was looking for a new place to play.

In surprising news, the Bellingham school announced Thursday that it was dropping football from its sports program. School officials believe eliminating football will protect 15 other sports from potential budget cuts.

"In my 22 years as director of athletics at Western, this is by far the toughest decision that I have been a part of," Lynda Goodrich said in a statement.

Tester, a 2008 South Kitsap graduate, said he learned of the decision minutes before a 1 p.m. meeting with Goodrich and Western Washington president Bruce Shepard at the school's Viking Union Building.

"Rick Copsey, our special teams captain, talked to the coaches and then he told me," said Tester, a freshman linebacker who was redshirted last season.

The news was a punch in the gut to many, including head coach Robin Ross, who led the team to a 6-5 record this season. Tester said Ross learned he was losing his program Thursday morning.

"He was in tears today," Tester said. "It was a shock to everyone."

Players on scholarship were told those scholarships would be honored if they remained at the school. All players will be allowed to transfer to other schools without forfeiting any eligibility.

Tester said some Vikings players walked out of the meeting with the school's administration early, disgusted with the decision. Others got on their cell phones to talk and text message with family and friends.

Many tried to contact other college coaches around the state to inquire about possible roster openings next season.

"My phone's been blowing up all day," Tester said.

Western closing the door on football also had an immediate impact locally. Central Kitsap football coach Mark Keel said Cougars senior Howie McDonald, who led the team to the state semifinals this season, was scheduled to take a recruiting visit to Western today.

There's no reason for McDonald to go to Bellingham now.

"It'd be a pretty short trip," said Keel, whose team went to Western last summer for its annual offseason camp.

Keel, who watched former Central Kitsap players Danny Van Datta, Peter Van Datta and Cody Oakes, who is still on the Vikings' roster, go to Western in the past several years, said Western's decision to cut football will be a boon to the Division II football program in Ellensburg.

"Central Washington is going to be a lot better," Keel said.

Keel also said without Western, local high school prospects who aren't quite on the elite level will have one less college to view as a potential suitor. There are no community college football teams in the state -- Olympic College cut its football program in 1986 -- there are only so many roster spots available at other programs.

"It just cuts down on the opportunity for kids that want to continue to play," Keel said.

Western, a member of the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference, began playing football in 1903 and finished with a 383-380-34 record in 98 seasons.

GNAC member WWU drops football

BY DAVID CORDERO, The Spectrum

ST. GEORGE, Utah - A month ago, Western Washington's football team celebrated its Rotary Bowl victory with a zest normally reserved for championship moments. Players and coaches savored the win in every way imaginable, reveling in the tangible evidence that their efforts proved worthwhile.

However, Thursday's stunning announcement by the university ensured it won't happen again.

WWU, which was part of the five-team Great Northwest Conference along with Dixie State, has dropped its football program - effective immediately.

Perhaps another casualty to the nation's sobering economic crisis, the team was axed because of budget reductions, increased travel costs and revenue stagnation, a university release said.

"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 Lynda Goodrich, WWU Director of Athletics.

The team's dissolution is expected to affect Dixie State in many ways, the most direct in scheduling. With GNAC teams playing each other home-and-home, DSC will have to scramble to find two replacement games.

DSC Director of Athletics Dexter Irvin said the dearth of Division II and Division I FCS teams in the region means he'll have a difficult time filling out the schedule. Trips east of Nebraska would be too expensive, he said.

"I think the news is devastating for football in the Western United States at this level," said Irvin, who noted the schedules for teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference are set for the coming season. "It causes us all to reflect what this state of the economy holds for higher education and athletics in the future."

Irvin said he wasn't aware of any immediate danger facing Dixie State football.

"If some other schools in the conference would decide to drop football, that would put us in a precarious situation," Irvin said. "Right now we certainly feel football is important to our community and the institution."

The announcement blindsided members of the WWU gridiron team, sophomore free safety Zach Schrader said. He told The Spectrum & Daily News that the squad was asked to gather for a 1 p.m. meeting, but were not told why.

When Goodrich and WWU President Bruce Shepard broke the news, it was as if a lightning bolt tore through the room.

"It was devastating. Everyone's heads and jaws just dropped," said Schrader, who had a pair of interceptions in a 25-10 win against Colorado School of Mines on Dec. 6 at Hansen Stadium. "They just changed 100 guys' lives by telling us we can't play football at Western anymore.

"Trying to tell your parents and not getting (emotional) about it was hard."

Even head coach Robin Ross appeared to be in the dark about the program folding. He was part of an hour-and-a-half conference call with other GNAC coaches and administrators on Wednesday. The chief topic was how to cut travel costs.

Schrader said Ross - who did not return a phone message - told him he had been notified only two hours earlier.

WWU sponsored football for 98 seasons, taking breaks only for World Wars I and II. The Vikings made five national playoff appearances in the 1990s and reached the NAIA Division II championship game in 1996. The win in this year's Rotary Bowl gave WWU a 6-5 record, a marked improvement from its 2-8 campaign of 2007.

"This is a difficult situation for Western Washington University and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference," said GNAC Commissioner Richard Hannan. "Unfortunately it's a reflection of the current state of our national and regional economies."

Word of the program's demise traveled quickly. Schrader said within hours he was contacted by two teams to see if he was interested in joining them.

Any Viking may transfer and be eligible to play immediately. Those who remain at WWU will be allowed to retain their scholarships.

"There are going to be options, but it will be a matter of if I want to get up and leave," said Schrader, who mentioned there had been talk among his teammates about coming to Dixie State. "Our whole team is going to be scattered around the country. We're going to lose a lot of friendships we've built up."

Western dropping football a surprise

Dave Trimmer. Spokesman Review

Western Washington football players were lifting weights Thursday morning, their sights set on next season.

A couple of hours later the weight of the world came down on them when they attended a mandatory meeting and were told the school was dropping football.

"Obviously, I'm mad about it," said Erick Cheadle, a freshman from Ferris. "I really wanted to play. I was looking forward to next year. I thought I was going to get some playing time. Sad, confused, I don't know what to do."

There are a handful of area players at the Bellingham school, plus graduate assistant coach Casey Clifton, a University graduate who just finished an outstanding playing career at Whitworth.

The players - sophomore Anthony Zackery (Ferris) and freshmen Adrian Milsap (Ferris), McKenzie Murphy (Ferris), Will Davis (Central Valley) and David Johnson (Odessa) - were told they could have their scholarship as long as they attend the school.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Murphy said. "To me, education is first, so I'm weighing my options. I don't know if I see myself playing anywhere, but we'll see how it goes."

Players who transfer to other schools won't have to sit out a year to be eligible.

Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said the players he talked to were "in shock. Nobody saw it coming. They kept it tight-lipped."

He called coaches at Central Washington, a rival member in the five-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and was told it "caught them off guard, too."

"I'm shocked and disappointed," Central Valley coach Rick Giampietri said.

"... It's a good place for young kids that want to pursue football, that aren't Division I athletes, to still be able to compete."

Washington State coach Paul Wulff, who faced the Vikings while at Eastern Washington, echoed those sentiments.

"It's unfortunate for all the current athletes and all the former players in the history over the university," he said. "I think the university will be affected by this forever. Not academically, but spiritually and culturally it will be different not having the sport."

With fewer football scholarship opportunities available in-state, Wulff said it could help the talent pool for walk-ons at WSU.

"At Eastern, we felt there were several players, at Central and Western, that could have played, but we didn't have the money or roster space," he said. "What their options are now are to walk on at Washington State, Washington or Eastern Washington. It's very unfortunate for kids. There are less opportunities out there for them to play."

According to GNAC commissioner Richard Hannan, the other football-playing schools in the conference - Central, Humbolt State of Arcata, Calif., Dixie State of St. George, Utah, and Western Oregon - plan to keep their programs.

"We're moving forward," said Hannan, who has been the commissioner since the league's inception eight years ago. "We had four football schools for several years. While it's difficult, we're going to keep working. It makes the expansion issue much more critical from a time standpoint."

The NCAA has approved a way for Canadian schools to become members. Hannan said Simon Fraser and British Columbia are considering it.

"There are a couple of other options I'm not at liberty to discuss," he said. "Hopefully, one or two of those come about. Not just football. We want to improve our total situation."

He said in addition to the normal high cost of football, what really hurt was the travel expense with no other Division II teams on the West Coast.

Humbolt and Dixie are not in the conference for other sports. The non-football schools are Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin's, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, Montana State- Billings and Northwest Nazarene.

"We hope this is the only thing," Hannan said. "We're all going to go through tough economic times the next few years, no doubt about it. The football schools have indicated they're going to move forward without dropping programs. We think this is going to be an isolated situation."

Meanwhile, the players have to decide what they want to do.

"I'm all right; just fighting through it," Murphy said. "It was a surprise, but you know, you can't do much about it. Some people are thinking about protesting, but I don't know what good that's going to do.

"One reason I came to Western is athletics. I liked the program and could still get a good education. If an offer like that comes, I'd definitely jump on it.

Players with local ties in dismay after WWU cuts program

Pipeline to NCAA Division II school no longer an option

by Marques Hunter of the Peninsula Gateway

Nearly a century worth of Western Washington University football tradition came to an abrupt end last week, leaving three local high school graduates with uncertain futures in athletics.

Peninsula High School graduates J.D. Neumeister and Nick Bassett and Gig Harbor High School graduate Dincer Kayhan each had football careers with the Vikings, but the university announced last Thursday it is dropping its football program because of budget constraints.

The Vikings played in the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

Two of the three Gig Harbor-area players said their careers are likely over.

"I'm done with football, and it's time I come to realize that," said Kayhan, a 5-foot-8, 315-pound academic senior who still had a year of eligibility. "I'm pretty upset with the school personally, but I understand the financial situation they are in. I just wish it didn't happen."

Kayhan, a defensive lineman, was a walk-on after graduating from Gig Harbor High in 2005. He received a text message from his coach when he was just outside his geology class on Thursday, saying there was a mandatory meeting.

The team had just set all the weightlifting times and running schedules for offseason conditioning during the winter season.

In all, there were 86 WWU players who could decide to play for a different school next year.

Others, like Neumeister, said they'll take a look at their options.

"There was no warning at all," said Neumeister, a 6-3, 230-pound tight end who will be a junior next fall. "Everyone is really in shock and scrambling around."

In its last season, WWU competed in the Dixie Rotary Bowl in George, Utah, and finished 6-5 overall.

Kayhan thought the team was on the way up.

"I thought this program was headed in the right direction," he said.

Bassett, a 2006 Peninsula graduate, was the starting left tackle for WWU. At 6-4 and 290 pounds, he has two years of eligibility left, but he said went to Bellingham to play for Western, and that's it.

"I'm not sure, but I think I'm done with football," Bassett said. "I'm just like frustrated in general. I feel like the university didn't give football a chance."

The program cut stemmed from a recommendation the school's athletic department made. WWU coaches, president Bruce Shepard and other administrative staff gathered all the players on campus to deliver the news.

Players were informed the reason behind the cut was budget-related.

Basset hinted the university could have been more proactive.

"Since I've been here, we've had annual fundraisers," he said. "I knew Western and everywhere else the economy was bad, but I haven't heard of any new fundraisers for football. It was a complete blindside."

One fewer school to choose from

Since Gig Harbor High School football coach Darren McKay stepped in, he's sent six players to Western Washington University.

"It'll be just one less choice," McKay said. "And by making it one less choice, Central (Washington) is the only D-II school. Somebody is going to be left out."

Although more of McKay's players have gone on to play at Eastern Washington in Cheney, Western had been a reliable pipeline for local high school athletes to continue playing football, some with scholarships.

Western had contacted current Gig Harbor seniors Tanner Davis and Jim Dahl this year prior to having the program dropped.

"Lets face it, there are more D-II kids than D-I," McKay said. "That's the level where they get some or all of their school paid for."