By KASEY TYRING
Eastern’s athletics program will be staying in the Ohio Valley Conference for the near future after not being invited to join the Sun Belt Conference.
Mark Sandy, athletic director, said Eastern wouldn’t be looking at moving conferences for another two or three years. He said the department is going to take the opportunity to improve their facilities.
Switching from Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) would add several million dollars to the operating budget, but the increase would help Eastern get more fans into seats during athletic games and overall lift the notoriety of the school, Sandy said.
“This was a chance to evaluate where we are athletically, especially our facilities,” Sandy said. “We knew all along that we needed to improve our facilities-we have been kind of lacking for the past 10 years or so.”
Facilities projects that will be completed this summer include new tennis courts located by the indoor courts across the Eastern Bypass along with new lighting and new wooden floors to replace the nearly 50-year-old original flooring in McBrayer Arena.
Other plans to renovate, that will not be done this summer but will be in the future, include improving Eastern’s football facilities with better seating, more amenities, press boxes and luxury suites.
These improvements will require additional funding, which is why the administration is continuing with the implementation of an athletics fee imposed on students.
“We plan to stay in the OVC for the foreseeable future,” President Michael Benson said. “We will, however, also move forward with the proposed student fee ($50 per semester) in order to address our athletic budget needs.”
Another aspect of being a part of larger conferences is increasing attendance at games.
“If you’re going to move to the FBS your stadium has to hold at least 17,000 fans and then average 15,000 fans per game,” Sandy said. “Our stadium holds 20,000 so we have the size but we would have to fix our average attendance.”
Sandy said moving up conferences would have improved attendance at home games because Eastern would be playing schools such a Western Kentucky University and Marshall University.
The rejection is an opportunity to improve athletics, Sandy said.
“They didn’t offer us an invitation,” Sandy said. “We were having a conversation about our readiness and our ability to move up. We look at it as an opportunity to improve and we’ll move on from there.”
Even without moving to the FBS for football, Eastern will need an additional women’s sport such as triathlon, bowling or sand volleyball, Sandy said.
“Our goal next year and our goal of each years are very similar,” Sandy said. “We want to win the conference championship in every sport. That is how we compete. We want to compete with integrity and teach our athletes to have good sportsmanship and we want to graduate our students.”