MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (WOOD) — In a time with more questions than answers in sports, the Central Michigan athletic program received the news it was looking for last week.
The NCAA Division I Council approved a waiver that will keep the Chippewas in the Football Bowl Subdivision, while giving the university two years to bring the tally of men’s sports up to FBS requirements.
This all came about after the Chippewas cut the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs due to the coronavirus pandemic. It dropped CMU from seven to five men’s programs, leaving them one short of the required number of men’s sports to remain an FBS school.
The waiver granting CMU to remain in the FBS will expire following the 2021-22 academic year.
According to CMU Athletic Director Michael Alford, everything went as expected.
“I can not say enough good things about the NCAA and the committee for their understanding of the situation that we are in currently,” Alford said. “We put a great plan together in front of them for how we will get back into compliance within two years and they were very understanding. We had full confidence the waiver would get passed.”
If the waiver was not passed by the NCAA, CMU would have needed to add another men’s sport to remain at their current status in Division I.
While Alford did not say what sport or sports the school plans to add over this waiver period, he said the athletic department has multiple models they are reviewing.
“If we add a sport I want to compete in it,” Alford said. “We also want to make it financially sustainable. We’re looking at different options right now to see what sport best fits us.”
When the Chippewas were forced to cut men’s track and field, it affected 36 student-athletes. If all goes according to plan, CMU will save $620,000 annually.
When Alford made the decision, he said it was probably the hardest one of his career.
“We had to look at it and do what was best for us at this moment,” Alford said. “Dealing with the pandemic and trying to make models of where you will be finically in three to four years is difficult because you just don’t know. Normally, you have about two models. Right now, I have six financial models.”
Of course, the Chippewas are not alone with recent budget cuts. 12 Division I programs have cut over 20 athletic teams since April 2. Bowling Green (baseball) was the only school able to recover and be reinstated. The alumni and donors donated $1.5 million over the next three seasons to keep the program going for the time being.
Alford said there would be no return of the men’s track and field program, regardless of the financial status.
Currently, the Chippewas have 15 sports in their athletic department: Men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, field hockey, football, women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, baseball, softball, women’s track and field, volleyball, wrestling and men’s and women’s cross country.
With the COVID-19 numbers changing daily, Alford has been working with multiple different groups at the university to fit with whatever standard is set for fall sports.
“With whatever we are allowed to do, we want to be ready to go into that mode and have people there safely, which is the number one thing,” Alford said. “We will listen to our medical professionals, not just regionally but locally and on campus to make sure we have a safe environment for not only our fans but our student-athletes.
“What we can and can’t do changes every day, so we are constantly changing our models for the fall.”
The Chippewas Champion Center, which is worth $32.5 million and was under construction at Kelly/Shorts Stadium through the 2019 season, is still expected to be finished by the Sept. 5 kickoff vs. San Jose State, according to Alford.