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'We need help': EWU AD Lynn Hickey grapples with budget cuts amid Coronavirus pandemic

If the football team's game at Florida this year gets canceled, it would put the athletic department in an even more precarious situation.

CHENEY, Wash. — Eastern Washington University’s athletic department is facing a lot of questions heading into the fall, like every other athletic department in the country.

However, their situation is more dire than those at the power five level.

"We need help, for people to step up," said EWU Athletic Director Lynn Hickey.

Specifically, Hickey needs donors.

"I think one of the things that we, as an athletic department, have not been the best at is going out and really making asks, setting some marks, and being a little bit more aggressive," reflected Hickey. "At times we've had so much success, and from what I've seen a little bit, maybe we've been a little bit complacent. We have about 1,000 donors, and for the success and legacy that we have, we should have closer to 3,000 donors."

Hickey and Eastern Washington athletics need donors because the university is in a tough position. Every department is going through cuts currently. 

Eastern Washington athletics' budget could also potentially take another hit. If the football team's game to open the season at Florida is canceled, Eastern would lose another $750,000. 

In a related note to EWU's football team, Hickey said that they are asking student-athletes to quarantine when they come back to campus and that they are doing surveys and temperature checks, but that they are not doing coronavirus tests for athletes who do not show symptoms.

EWU athletics' budget currently stands around $14 million for next year. Before the coronavirus hit, their budget for next year was projected to be around $17 million.

Cuts are coming from everywhere, but Hickey is determined to not cut scholarships.

"We're taking a 30% cut across the board on operations. That's a big cut. Then everybody else who's left on staff is taking anywhere from a 3-10% salary reduction voluntarily because we care about this program, and we want to try to keep those scholarships in place. We've worked really, really hard looking at our team travel, looking at ways that we can cut back, the number of trips we're taking, looking at recruiting, where we're recruiting, what the costs are. We lost $350,000 from the NCAA because Final Four was canceled. We are taking a hit," said Hickey.

Student fees are also being cut by 22%, which is another place the athletic department gets money. Some other schools have had to cut athletic programs to stay afloat. That’s not an option for Eastern if they want to stay in Division I.

"We can't. We're at the minimum number. We're at 14," said Hickey. "There are some waivers out there through the NCAA. As things progress, I hope we don't have to suspend maybe a season for one quarter or something. Those are options that are on the table, but at this time we've been able to protect our sports and our scholarships."

So that leads to the next question: is a move to Division II imminent?

"For me to say I don't worry about it, I would be lying, but that's not our intentions. Our focus right now is really putting together a business plan, taking it to our fans and to our donors, and saying here's an opportunity. We need an investment in our program," she said.

At the end of the day, running a school, and an athletic department, is a business. With Eastern’s current financial situation, Hickey said help from the outside may be the only way out.

"The university has been good to us, and the student fees have supported us well, but we're just at a point now where there's not the money there. They're going to have to step away, and we've got to put a new business plan together," she said.

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