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Originally published Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 9:00 PM

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Western Washington cuts football program

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.

AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE —

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.

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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."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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