When the news came out that football was finished at Western Washington University it left many people wondering how things got this bad, this fast.
As upsetting as the news was to anyone with ties to the program, even more maddening was the way the decision was handled.
Western dropped a sport with more than 100 years of tradition without a single cry for help. The administration never let on that the football program had been teetering on the brink of oblivion for the past five seasons. Then they let the dam break before anyone noticed a crack, let alone was given a chance to patch the holes.
"I don't care what the cause is, if you don't raise awareness about the issue, people don't have the opportunity to respond," former WWU quarterback Jason Stiles wrote in an email. "To me, the fact alone that they didn't raise awareness on the issue well in advance should have our leaders held to some level of accountability."
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Eileen Coughlin, the vice president for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services, said in a phone interview on Thursday, Jan. 8, that the administration had "turned over every stone" in an attempt to find a solution to the financial crisis WWU is facing without eliminating football.
It seems that in doing so, the administration failed to flip over that giant boulder of alumni and booster giving that helps prop up so many collegiate activities. Instead of flooding email inboxes or dialing the phone numbers of everyone who ever wore a football helmet at WWU, administrators in the athletic department sat on their hands.
That sort of passive approach to fundraising for a program that apparently had been on life support for a long time, should have every other sport, club, or activity at WWU sweating its future and questioning the vision of its leaders.
Around six years ago WWU made an effort to raise scholarship money for the football program and it was a tough sell. Maybe it would have been easier to cold-call alumni and ask for money if someone had known the future of the program was hanging in the balance and not just some wide receiver's text books.
"We had no idea there was any kind of problem," said Stan Sinex, whose son David was on the team. "All they had to do was let people know the football program needed help, and we could have made it work. Anybody who has a child who plays sports understands that it costs money. That's the culture we're in. If they had come out and said we're going to need a $5,000 donation from every player to make this work, we all would have found a way."
Instead WWU's administration scheduled one last game for the football team, winner-take-all, without bothering to tell anyone associated with the program when and where to show up for the contest. Now many former and current players are scrambling to organize a rescue attempt, something that could have started five years ago if anyone with knowledge of the circumstances had simply opened their mouths.
I can tell you right now that there are at least 100 former college football players in Whatcom County who would have washed cars until their hands bled if it meant it would have helped the football team earn a stay of execution.
"I've lost relatives, and the feeling is very similar," assistant coach Kefense Hynson told WWU's student newspaper, The Western Front, on Thursday.
One thing that's clear here is that somewhere along the line somebody - or likely several somebodys - probably made some very bad decisions with WWU's athletic budget. At some point those spending parameters became a suggested guideline rather than an unbreakable rule. Now generations of high school football players will have to pay for those mistakes.
The administration made Western football a martyr, suggesting that its sacrifice will ensure that the remaining 15 intercollegiate sports will be stronger for it. That's a pretty sickening way to spin a disappointing decision. Then again, it's pretty tough to make the wrong choice when you're operating under the altruistic banner that any decision that's made will be done with the best interest of the school in mind, as the administration did with this.
It's going to take at least five years for the school to reap the full monetary rewards from the cut it made on Thursday. Detractors of the move say that in that span of time the economy could turn around and WWU's endowment fund and investments might start to gain interest again. The administration, unfortunately, never bought itself enough time to find out. Now, dropping football could be the legacy left behind by a group of people who chose to remain silent.
The boosters, fans and players never had the chance to try and save football at WWU. There's no reason to think the administration will listen to any Hail Mary efforts made now by those folks looking to undo what's already been done. After all, poor communication is what started this mess in the first place.