By Terry Foster

Eastern Michigan University is doing a thorough self-examination that could change the landscape of the school’s athletic and academic programs.

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Should it keep football? Should the football program drop to Division II? Should the school continue to subsidize athletes by siphoning money from academics? HBO dropped a bomb on the school Tuesday night during a Real Sports program that said the athletic department lost $52 million the last two years and ranks last in Division I football attendance.

But EMU Regent Jim Stapleton said some of the measures the school is considering were in the works before the Wednesday firebomb came out.

“The HBO special in no way shape or form prompted the regent’s actions,” Stapleton told CBS Detroit Wednesday morning. “We have been thinking about and analyzing our overall academic and athletic expenditures for at least the last several months. Any decisions made won’t be because of HBO. You don’t have to be Kirk Herbstreit or Desmond Howard to know we have a problem with our football program. But it has nothing to do with our current football coach Chris Creighton who is a good man and a good football coach. But so was (former) coach Ron English.”

Why does Eastern Michigan University have football?

Real Sports questioned why schools across the country siphon money from academics to athletics. For example the program said Rutgers lost $312 million over the past 10 years. HBO also visited EMU in February and finally released their findings on Tuesday.

One EMU economics professor estimated that students pay an annual athletic tax of $1,000 a year for a football program that has not had a winning season in 20 years and draws hundreds to games.

They can paint the field grey, blue, black or green and can sledge hammer as many brick walls as they want, but few come to The Factory.

So why keep football?

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“That’s a fair question,” Stapleton said. “That is one of the things we are evaluating but we are not at the point of making a decision now. You get into football because you believe if you win you will have a school pride experience, increased enrollment and development. When you don’t win those things don’t happen and it has not happened (at EMU) for a while. It starts in that you examine everything. This is the process we are going through at this time.”

Students, alumni and faculty do not care about EMU football. The program does a poor job of marketing itself and makes it almost impossible for the media to cover the program properly. MLive covers Eastern Michigan athletics closer than anyone but many of the recent stories on its website are university generated.

This is a decades’ long problem that does not seem to go away. I’ve been to a couple of meetings on campus over the years and it is easy to run into people who no longer want football on campus. Or they believe EMU should drop to Division II which is less expensive.

“We are throwing money down the drain in athletics,” EMU Economics Professor Howard Bunsis told Real Sports.

Bunsis estimates that the athletic program has lost $52 million the last two years. A total of 29,381, less than the average attendance for a Tigers game, went to an Eastern game last year. That was an average of 4,896 fans which ranked last in Division I last season.

Worst yet academics are supporting athletics which you could almost understand if fall Saturday’s were festive and drew students and alumni together. It is a ghost town near Rynearson even on game day.

Once again why does EMU have football?

Stapleton said every department is under review. How much money does it bring in? How much does it spend?

“There are no more sacred cows that can be saved,” he said. “We have to look at every single department. Athletics is no different than any other unit of the university.”

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