CHENEY — Another Eastern Washington football season, another challenging schedule.
This one is a little more so, with trips to Oregon State, Toledo and Sam Houston State that offer a financial shot in the arm as well as a chance to beat the big boys.
It also offers the very real chance of the Eagles starting the season 1-3.
To quote an article from The Sports Network: “This year’s 12-game regular-season schedule – the first in EWU history – has Hannibal Lector’s fingerprints all over it.”
Says EWU athletic director Bill Chaves: “I’d be saying the same thing if I wasn’t in this chair: that’s a really hard schedule. But our players embrace those games, and I guarantee our guys are going to be looking forward to that.”
Yet fans still ask, “Why are we playing Toledo?” The answer is complicated, and reveals as much about the science and art of football scheduling on the West Coast as it does about the bottom line at the EWU Athletic Department. Chaves has a budget, which is balanced partly by revenues from the football team. This year, that includes a $450,000 payout from Oregon State and another $325,000 from Toledo.
At least the Sam Houston State game is a home-and-home series, with the Bearkats returning the favor next year. That series is a triumph of sorts, Chaves said, because of the geographical difficulty of scheduling nonconference games with other Football Championship Subdivision teams.
“Every time you look at it we’re kind of at the mercy of our location,” Chaves said. “A lot of other teams and conferences don’t have to step on a plane (to play a non-conference game.)”
The best chance came a few years ago, when the Eagles negotiated with South Dakota State. The Eagles made the trip to Brookings, S.D., in 2011, with the hosts footing the bill. A return game couldn’t be arranged, partly because the game in Cheney would have to be played in early September, before Eastern students would arrive on campus.
Unfortunately, that’s still the case this year. The lone home game is on Sept. 7 against Division II Western Oregon, for the same reason: it’s the best Chaves can do under the circumstances.
The biggest objection to this year’s schedule is that a 1-3 start will all but force to Eagles to go 7-1 in the conference to earn a spot in the FCS playoffs. Even a 6-2 record (assuming that doesn’t win the Big Sky’s automatic berth) would mean an overall record of 7-5. And even with an expanded playoff field of 24 teams and strength of schedule also factored into the process, 7-5 probably won’t be good enough.
With the season now passing into the hands of the players and coaches, Chaves is looking several seasons ahead.
Next year offers another 12-game schedule, including a game at Washington and the earliest home game in recent memory: Aug. 30 against Division II Montana Western, plus MSU and Sam Houston State.
“I’m still knocking out 2015 and 2016,” Chaves said, but the big paydays are locked in with games at Oregon in ’15 and Washington State the following year.