August 05, 2003 11:00 pm
NAIA and NCAA III: Eastern Oregon plays both NCAA Div. III and NAIA teams in football. Last year, Eastern played several NCAA Div. III teams such as Wisconsin-Whitewater. (The Observer/File photo).
NAIA and NCAA III: Eastern Oregon plays both NCAA Div. III and NAIA teams in football. Last year, Eastern played several NCAA Div. III teams such as Wisconsin-Whitewater. (The Observer/File photo).

By Raenelle Kwock

Observer Staff Writer

While Eastern Oregon University has been a member of the NCAA for a few years, the school has been an NAIA member for a long time.

The decision to go to a dual affiliation has its pluses and minuses, according to coaches and athletic officials. One of those minuses is that there is a difference between athletic scholarships at Eastern and scholarships at most of the NAIA schools Eastern competes against.

Years ago, the issues of affiliations and scholarships were simpler. Tuition wasn't as expensive then.

Doc Savage attended Eastern in 1951 and did not have to pay tuition while he was there.

He played football. Savage, who went on to coach football at La Grande High School, said Eastern had a variety of sources that paid tuition, which was $30 per quarter back then. The state offered scholarships, and Savage said he had a part-time job while he was enrolled at Eastern.

Pasco Arritola attended Eastern from 1957 to 1961 and played football. Arritola said full tuition was about $70 or $74 a quarter and a student could get through Eastern on a $1,000 scholarship. He added there were few athletic scholarships when he was attending Eastern.

Gary Feasel, a retired Eastern track and field and cross country coach, remembers participating in the NAIA Oregon Collegiate Conference, which no longer exists.

Feasel said Eastern did not give athletic track scholarships, yet he was able to attract athletes who competed well.

"You recruited the best you could," he said.

He recruited by sending letters. He also said there was a high retention and graduation rate.

Feasel recalled that before retiring in 1990, the administration decided the NAIA was a good choice for Eastern.

"Their structure fit us better than anything else," Feasel said.

For a while, Eastern football competed in the Columbia Football Association, which was formed in 1985. Eastern was in the Mount Hood League and battled South-ern Oregon, Lewis and Clark, Willa-mette, Pacific, Oregon Tech and Western Oregon.

Eastern Athletic Director Rob Cashell said many Northwest schools were evaluating their philosophies and what athletics represented during the 1990s. As a result, Cashell said, various schools sought NCAA affiliation in Division II or Division III.

Cashell said the leadership of Eastern and its history led it down the path of believing that Eastern was well-suited to be a Division III school.

The Division III philosophy statement says: "Colleges and universities in Division III place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students' academic programs.

"They seek to establish and maintain an environment in which a student-athlete's athletic activities are conducted as an integral part of the student-athlete's educational experience."

Cashell explained Northwest schools were seeking NCAA affiliations in the 1990s and Eastern decided to look at Division III as well.

In 1995, Eastern inquired about membership. It became a Division III member in 1996. It was a provisional member until 1999 when it became an active member. Eastern has been a dual affiliate since that time.

The NCAA Web site on the differences between Divisions I, II and III states: "Division III athletics features student-athletes who receive no financial aid related to their athletic ability and athletic departments are staffed and funded like any other department in the university."

That "no financial aid" requirement is one of the big differences between Eastern and many of the NAIA schools the university competes against. NAIA does allow athletic scholarships, which some Eastern coaches believe places the La Grande school at a disadvantage.

Eastern at one time applied for membership in the Division III Northwest Conference, but was denied.

The Northwest Conference is made up of private schools — Linfield, Lewis and Clark, Willamette, Pacific, George Fox, Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran, Whitman and Whitworth.

"As I understood it, Eastern applied to be a member in football only, but with a scheduling agreement in other sports," Northwest Conference sports information director Steve Flegel said. "The president ultimately denied the request because they wanted to keep the conference a purely private school league, especially under the financial aid guidelines of Division III."

There is no Division III competition geographically near Eastern, making it financially difficult to play a full Division III schedule, Cashell said.

Eastern maintains its dual affiliation because this allows the school to participate in the NAIA Cascade Collegiate Conference.

However, Eastern is on an "unlevel playing field" with dual affiliation, Cashell said.

Part two: That unlevel playing field explained.