Ypsilanti — Eastern Michigan officials have taken fire the last few days after a report on HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” prompted discussion from students and faculty that they consider moving the football program down to Division II — or scrap it entirely.
On Tuesday, the university’s leadership issued a statement to the contrary.
“These reports are not based on any solid factual information,” Eastern Michigan interim President Donald Loppnow wrote in a statement. “We have absolutely no plans to eliminate football or move into any other division or conference.”
The Eagles are 3-21 in two seasons under Chris Creighton.
“Now entering his third year and with the majority of the team now made up of his recruits, we believe the best is ahead in terms of on-the-field and academic performance,” Loppnow said. “We believe very strongly in coach Creighton and his efforts to rebuild the program.”
The statement, signed by Loppnow as well as other school leaders, was sent in an email to students and employees. It comes on the heels of a number of radio appearances by athletic director Heather Lyke, who defended the program.
“The reality is our football program has struggled competitively,” Lyke said on WMGC. “Not in any of the other areas, from an academic standpoint or commitment to our community. But yes, we have struggled. The reality is that we’re committed to Division I sports, being a member of the (Mid-American Conference) and having FBS Division I football.”
Lyke also reiterated a statement that HBO officials did not reach out to the athletic department for comment.
“They never asked and I would not have declined (if they did),” Lyke said.
Tuesday night, HBO officials clarified that claim.
“Real Sports interviewed Eastern Michigan’s interim president Donald Loppnow and included budgetary figures regarding Eastern Michigan athletics and financial aid that came straight from (Geoff Larcom), Eastern Michigan’s executive director of media relations,” HBO media relation representative Ray Stallone said. “Eastern Michigan’s comments were included in our report.”
Eastern Michigan’s athletic budget largely operates from the university’s general fund, which students pay into with tuition and other fees. Nearly 80 percent of the athletic department’s money is subsidized by students, to the tune of about $900 per student.
“There is an investment that comes with having Division I athletics, and it’s something we all face across the country,” Lyke said. “But the reality is that people understand the values that it brings and the pride that it can build and the allegiance and the diversity that it adds to your university.”
That allegiance, however, is not shared by some of faculty members.
“Eastern Michigan should drop Division I football and join the Horizon League, where football is not required,” according to a faculty union report given to the Board of Regents last week.
Al Willman is a freelance writer.