Weber State coach Dave Arslanian has a problem. The state of Utah's board of regents and legislature have ordered university president Paul H. Thompson to cut $500,000 or more from the athletic department's budget, and the Wildcat football program is losing an average of $850,000 a year—as much as six times more than any other sport on campus. Under those conditions, how long can football last in Ogden?
In late May a strategic planning task force decided that unless the team develops "overwhelming" support—i.e., it averages 14,000 fans at home and $350,000 in ticket revenue this fall—the football program would be reduced from 65 scholarships to about 25, and the coaching staff would be cut from eight to four. Moreover, if the team averaged less than 10,000 fans and $220,000 in ticket revenue (what the task force termed "substantial" support), football would be eliminated.
Considering that the Wildcats, who have won 14 of their last 21 games, averaged only 4,800 fans in '93, the task force seems to have set some unreachable goals. Thompson, for one, is already talking as if football were dead and buried. "I love football; I just don't love it at $850,000 a year," he says. "I've had people tell me you can't be a university without a football team. That's contestable."
Not to Arslanian. He has refused to punt. He delivers his formula for saving the team with the gusto of a Rockne half-time speech: "You gotta market and promote. You gotta sell. You gotta get out and sell and market and promote. And you gotta do it yourself!"
Last Christmas players peddled season tickets at malls in Ogden and nearby Layton Hills. Assistant coaches gave up their July vacations to brainstorm about promotional ideas. In June two young admen were hired to promote the team. Says one of them, Michael Hogan, "When my parents call on Sunday, they don't ask the score of the game; they simply ask, 'You guys get 14,000 last night?' "
Hanging on Arslanian's office wall is a quote from Bruce Handley, chairman of Weber State's department of business administration and head of the task force subcommittee responsible for reviewing athletics. In April, Handley was asked if the Wildcats would draw 14,000 a game this season. He replied, "We don't think there is a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to happen."
After three home games the Wildcats are averaging 13,156, and conference showdowns against Montana and Idaho State, both at home, are ahead. The team also happens to be 3-1. Through it all, Arslanian's faith has never wavered. "Every faculty in the country has people who despise sports programs," he says. "But my deep, honest belief is that football is an important part of this university."
One person who sympathizes with Arslanian is, of all people, Handley. A two-time all-conference offensive lineman for Weber State in the mid-'60s, Handley played under Arslanian's father, Sark. "If I were a football player today, I'd want to take me outside and duke it out," says Handley. "But these guys have to understand, I fight for Weber athletics; I don't fight for football."
Pennies from Heaven
Call it divine intervention, call it dumb luck, but Washington has found an unlikely benefactor: the Seattle Seahawks.