EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Baseball, men’s soccer, and women’s lacrosse teams are included in a UW-Eau Claire initiative and enrollment package to support additional enrollment for the university. Blugold Athletic Director Dan Schumacher says a decision on the initiative could be made in a short period of time.
A member of the Blugold baseball team from the 1990s holds a bat before a game.
“If this goes through, we’ll have over 800 student-athletes in 25 different sports. There’s no other size athletic department in the State of Wisconsin. It’s an exciting time,” Schumacher said.
Baseball talent and programs have been abundant in the City of Eau Claire and surrounding area for decades, but the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been without its own program since the mid-‘90s.
“When I came here as an athletic director, it was baffling why we didn’t have baseball. This is a baseball town. I’ll be the first one to recognize that,” Schumacher said. “We have an opportunity now to bring that back.”
When adding collegiate athletic programs, Title IX comes to the forefront; if you add a men’s team, you have to add a women’s team, right? That’s not necessarily the case.
“The sports we are adding, other than lacrosse: our men’s soccer, along with baseball, fit the model for which the top-20 feeder schools feed our enrollment,” Schumacher explained. “Statistics year in and year out show – which is what we call a Title IX survey of interests and abilities – we’ve been able to successfully have 5 years of data that back up these decisions on why we would put forward for approval. For baseball, it would be reinstatement. We’ve done our homework. We’ve been strategic about it from an enrollment standpoint. We’ve been working with the foundation to get the right facilities to accommodate these additions.”
A major component of the initiative is student retention. Schumacher goes into detail on how these changes would improve not only the amount of students retained each year, but improve the percentage as well.
“This makes sense. If you look at the athletic graduation rates, the athletic retention rates, our academic profile, it’s shocking. It sticks out that we retain kids at a higher rate than other student groups on campus. We graduate at a higher rate. We have a higher GPA,” Schumacher said of UW-Eau Claire athletics. “Why wouldn’t we want to add to our repertoire of sports with that amount of success?”
Aside from academic retention rates, the possible addition of athletic programs with a high-volume, local following will allow the university to keep area talent from being poached by programs outside the Chippewa Valley.
“When you think of a men’s soccer (program), when you think of baseball – those are 2 backyard sports that all the schools in the area support; Eau Claire North won a (baseball) state championship, Memorial is always in the top-5 or competing for a state championship in boy’s soccer," Schumacher said. "This creates opportunity to keep our kids home and keep Eau Claire kids here and have a place of pride, if those sports move forward.”
If approved, the athletic department will be looking for head coaches for the sports added immediately.