Sports

Football sacked at Western Washington University

Football has come to an end, at least temporarily, at Western Washington University.

University officials announced Thursday that the Vikings football program will be eliminated as a cost-cutting move meant to ensure the excellence of all the school's intercollegiate sports.

The Bellingham-based university fields 15 intercollegiate sports other than football.

According to WWU President Bruce Shepard, running a NCAA Division II football program is too costly at a time when the university faces budget reductions and pending program cuts.

In a press release issued by the university, Shepard said expenditures have outpaced athletic-generated revenue in recent years, due in part to rising travel costs, field rentals and a relatively flat growth in gift and donation dollars. He also noted Western is just one of five Division II schools that sponsor football in the western U.S. states, including Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Nevada.

The Vikings played one game at home and one at each of the other four schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as part of this past season's conference schedule.

The announcement caught many players off guard, according to Friday Harbor graduate Danny Cumming, a senior and starter in the Vikings defensive backfield this past season. Few were aware, he said, that such a move was even under consideration until very recently.

"Everyone is still in shock," said Cumming, who made the team as a freshman walk-on and will graduate this spring. "I don't think it's really set in yet. But the school seems like they're trying to make the best out of the situation."

For example, he said, players on scholarship will be able to retain that financial aid and remain in school. According to the university, players that chose to transfer won't have to sit out a year since the school is cutting its football program.

Though it appears football at Western is doomed, players from the 2008 Vikings' squad can say that they sent the program out with a bang. The Vikings capped this past year's 6-5 regular-season record with a 28-10 win over Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl Dec. 6 in St. George, Utah.

"It's kind of funny," Cumming said, "we ended with such a great season. It doesn't really affect me because I'll be graduating this spring. But I feel real bad for the other guys."

Eileen Coughlin, vice president for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services, said WWU's 15 other intercollegiate sports will not be adversely affected and, in fact, will be better protected as the university faces significant budget cuts.

"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.

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 98 seasons of competition, compiled 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.

For more information, or a copy of the press release, visit www.wwu.edu

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