New athletic teams are part of an approach at Eastern New Mexico University called activity-driven enrollment. Illustration by Eric Kluth
By Kevin Wilson
High school soccer was a way of life for Anna Funck less than two years ago. She knew that college soccer could be the same.
“It had always been an option since I started high school,” said Funck, a freshman who scored three goals in the inaugural season for Eastern New Mexico University.
While college soccer was always an option for Funk, ENMU wasn’t an option until Travis McCorkle recruited her as a senior at Amarillo High. Funck isn’t sure what the future holds for her or her teammates, but she knows she would not be at ENMU without athletics.
Time will tell if Funck, a Lone Star Conference second-team selection, and her teammates have success on the field. Already, she and her teammates are success stories for the NCAA Division II school as the university’s business model is enhanced with more customers — a.k.a. students.
New athletic teams, and the expansion of existing programs, is part of an effort that has given Eastern its biggest enrollment (3,491) since 1996.
“We’ve tried to do a couple of things,” ENMU president Steven Gamble said. “One is to play on the strengths of the institution. Good students are attracted to the quality of the academic program, so we have continued to try to emphasize the strength of our academic programs.”
Another plan is what Gamble calls “activity-driven enrollments,” which consists of increasing opportunities for students to join on-campus activities and possibly attract students that wouldn’t otherwise come to ENMU.
Not all activities directly increase enrollment, such as the Silverado dance team, but Gamble likes to look at the big picture.
“We’ve got a good group of dedicated young women that enjoy (the dance team), but they probably would have come to school here anyway,” Gamble said. “We didn’t have much of an impact on the Silverados, but you look at our baseball or our softball team. They (are students who) would not have come to Eastern if they didn’t have the chance to be part of a college baseball or softball team.”
Mike Maguire, ENMU’s athletic director and volleyball coach, thinks it’s good that the university is giving a second chance to programs such as track and field and first chances to men’s and women’s soccer.
“The big thing is providing those opportunities that weren’t there in the past,” Maguire said. “We had cut some teams in the past because of Title IX (federal guidelines). Now, it’s nice to see those teams come back and make a positive contribution to the university and the community.”
Title IX was a federal law passed in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions. The law encompasses all aspects of education, but has its greatest visibility through athletics and a demand for equal opportunity for each gender.
The teams have also contributed to ENMU’s bottom line. Gamble said the college’s rule of thumb is that a new sport needs to attract 20 to 25 people, and it will more than pay for itself.
Gamble said no solid number exists due to several factors (meal plans, lab fees, book costs), but estimated that a freshman will put about $6,000 into the university.
Example: An expansion to the football roster allowed funding for an additional assistant coach, which Gamble said was awarded as a condition of the expansion.
“We’ll probably have about 370 athletes at the institution (each year),” Gamble said. “That does not include the trainers, that does not include the dance team, that does not include the marching band. All of them are full-time students, or they couldn’t participate in athletics.”
Eastern is not the only university that has seen its numbers rise thanks to athletics. New Mexico Highlands University is making a comeback from a few dark years, and athletic director John Lumley thinks his department is one of several reasons for that.
“In that time (since Lumley arrived in June), I think athletics has had a big impact on the enrollment at Highlands,” Lumley said. “Spring enrollment is up and so are applications.”
It’s been good news for NMHU, literally. Lumley said the university received great press through a program called the Cowboy Couch Corral, which allowed students to bring their own furniture and have an end-zone seat to Cowboy football games. A few media outlets caught word of the promotion, and Lumley said stories like that have helped overshadow the university’s financial woes from years past.
“A little bit of good press goes a long, long way when you’ve been getting nothing but bad press for a while,” said Lumley, who said athletics is one of the easiest ways to receive media attention.
Eastern has also received more attention, and more attendance, thanks to its new sports programs and increased roster sizes in others. Gamble thinks every move has worked so far, to make ENMU a bigger and better all-around university.
“It brings excellent students to the university that excel in other fields and that’s beneficial to everybody involved,” Maguire said. “We wanted to do our part, and I think the coaching staff we have has really helped us fulfill that.”