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NCAA squeeze play raises the bottom line
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NCAA squeeze play raises the bottom line

Some schools get creative to keep I-A status


08:26 PM CDT on Friday, May 7, 2004


By KEITH WHITMIRE / The Dallas Morning News



The University of Arkansas will play a game in Little Rock on Sept. 18 and be considered the road team.

Although Arkansas will handle many of the game operations and have the large majority of fans, Louisiana-Monroe will be considered the home team.

That is just fine with Louisiana-Monroe athletic director Bruce Hanks. In fact, Hanks is so happy with the deal, which includes four more "home" games against the Razorbacks in Little Rock, he may allow Arkansas to wear its home red jerseys.

"I told them I didn't care what color jerseys they wore," Hanks said. "Whatever they like."

Louisiana-Monroe playing a home game in Little Rock is just one example of the lengths some schools are taking in order to meet new Division I-A membership requirements.

The new requirements, aimed at slowing the migration of I-AA schools to I-A status, also affect schools at the bottom of the I-A hierarchy. Schools that don't benefit from large fan bases or BCS affiliation could struggle to meet the new standards, which include attendance and scholarship minimums.

Starting this fall, a school must average 15,000 in attendance for at least four home games against I-A opponents. The number increases to five home games in two years.

Programs that have paid the bills by going on the road to face big-money programs such as Florida or LSU now must ensure they play an attractive home schedule as well.

One solution is to move a game to a neutral site. The NCAA permits one neutral-site contest a season, as long as the site is not considered a home field for either team.

Arkansas State has scheduled Missouri next season at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, another "home" contest at a neutral site. Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee said the Missouri game in Kansas City was set to meet the five home-game requirement, not for attendance reasons.

Arkansas's home stadium is in Fayetteville, but the Razorbacks have traditionally played several games over the years in Little Rock. Playing Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock gives Arkansas an extra game in-state. Crossing state lines gives Louisiana-Monroe a big gate.

"I think it's a win-win for both of us," Monroe's Hanks said. "They like to play in Little Rock, and Little Rock is closer to us than Baton Rouge is."


Other changes
Playing a home game in another state may not meet the spirit of the new requirements, but the requirements themselves raise a lot of questions.

The NCAA is still in the process of finalizing the penalties for not meeting one or more of the requirements.

The current proposal is to place offending schools into a restricted category. They would be barred from playing a post-season game while in restricted status.

If they don't meet the requirements after a year in the restricted category, the football program would then fall into an unclassified category.

A school could then re-apply for I-A status, a process that takes at least two years, or immediately apply for I-AA status if it meets those requirements.

Among the other changes:

• Schools will no longer be able to report attendance to the NCAA as tickets sold or distributed. Attendance will be measured by the actual turnstile count.

• I-A schools must sponsor at least 16 sports, with a minimum of eight women's and six men's sports. Louisiana Tech is adding women's soccer and women's bowling this fall to get to the minimum 16 sports (nine women's and seven men's).

• Schools must provide 200 total scholarships and at least 90 percent (76.5) of the 85 scholarships allowed in I-A football.

The scholarship and sports requirements are to keep schools from masquerading as I-A programs while operating with I-AA budgets.

"I think that clearly I-A is a different level of competition," said Steve Mallonee of the NCAA's governance staff. "This is to make sure that those who want to compete at that level are making that commitment financially and otherwise."


Fan fare
The one requirement that can't be solved by fund-raising or belt-tightening is attendance.

SMU and North Texas each averaged fewer than 20,000 per game last season, but they were comfortably over the required average attendance figure, thanks to home games against Big 12 opponents.

SMU drew 27,106 for Oklahoma State last season and 32,000 for Texas Tech the year before. UNT drew 29,437 for last season's game against Baylor, although this year's home schedule doesn't feature a Big 12 or former Southwest Conference opponent.

After averaging 18,694 last season and going to a third-straight bowl game, North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal is confident the Mean Green will average 15,000 in 2004. However, he does take issue with the requirement.

"To assess Division I-A status based on attendance doesn't make sense," Villarreal said. "If you're willing to make the financial commitment, the number of scholarships and sports, those are things that, as an institution, you can decide whether you want to be Division I."

Without its Sept. 4 home game against Texas Tech, SMU could struggle to average 15,000 after coming off an 0-12 season. The Mustangs averaged 17,435 at home last season.

"Anybody who in the past has averaged in the mid- to upper-teens is in jeopardy if they go 0-11 or if there's bad weather," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "There's some factors that put several schools at risk, including some in the, quote, BCS conferences."


At-risk conferences
But it is the smaller conferences that could be hit hardest. Five of the eight Sun Belt teams failed to draw 15,000 per game last fall. Six teams in the Mid-American Conference also failed to draw 15,000.

Five Sun Belt teams played home games against non-I-A opponents. Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe each played two I-AA teams, and New Mexico State played a Division II opponent.

The new standards for I-A will impact I-AA programs, perhaps positively and negatively.

"By putting a standard in place, we think it helps to protect I-AA football and it raises the bar for those programs that are considering a move to I-A," said Tom Burnett, commissioner of the I-AA Southland Conference. "At the same time, it's a scheduling issue. Certainly, our programs want access to I-A games. And just like anyone else, [access to] some large payouts from guarantee games.

"If the five I-A home games creates a problem there and cuts off our access, then that's a concern. We would love for them to relax some of that and allow a I-AA to count as one of those home games."

The Sun Belt faces the prospect of more than half of its members being on restricted status and hunting for I-A opposition.

"I lose sleep at night, but it's not on this issue," Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said. "At the end of the day, everybody's going to make it."

Waters is not only confident that his schools will meet that standards, but that the NCAA will revise them. The NCAA Board of Directors discussed the attendance requirement during its April meeting and could issue revisions this summer.

The problem, Waters said, is that there are few reasons to play I-AA football anymore.

Although I-AA programs are limited to 63 scholarships, there is little television revenue, no chance for a bowl game and now fewer opportunities to schedule I-A opponents.

"You've got to give them a carrot to stay down, and we haven't done that yet," Waters said. "As long as I-A is as attractive as it is, people will find a way to move up."

E-mail kwhitmire@dallasnews.com


NEW DIVISION I-A REQUIREMENTS
In order to maintain full Division I-A status, a school must meet these new criteria beginning this fall:

• Average 15,000 in football attendance for five home games against I-A opponents. Because of scheduling conflicts, schools can play a minimum of four home games against I-A opponents for the next two years.

• Sponsor 16 sports, with at least six for men and eight for women.

• Provide at least 200 total athletic scholarships each year, or spend at least $ 4million in grants-in-aid every year.

• Maintain a two-year rolling average of at least 90 percent of the maximum number of football scholarships. The current maximum is 85 scholarships, so school would have to average at least 76.5 players on football scholarships over two years.


MISSING THE CUT

NCAA legislation that goes into effect this fall requires schools to average 15,000 a game in home football attendance to maintain Division I-A status. The 11 schools that failed to meet the requirement last season with home games and average attendance:

School Games Avg.

Kent State 6 8,524
Middle Tennessee 6 11,021
Eastern Michigan 7 11,258
La.-Monroe 5 11,298
Idaho 5 12,064
Ball State 6 12,339
Buffalo 6 12,419
Akron 6 13,812
Central Michigan 6 13,907
La.-Lafayette 6 13,995
Utah State 5 14,921
05-08-2004 09:09 AM
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Post: #2
 
MeanGreen61 Wrote:• I-A schools must sponsor at least 16 sports, with a minimum of eight women's and six men's sports. Louisiana Tech is adding women's soccer and women's bowling this fall to get to the minimum 16 sports (nine women's and seven men's).
Am I the only one thinking

"Gee...lookie there, 2 more extremly entertaining sports for La Tech having to travel to hawaii to compete for that glorified WAC championship"
05-08-2004 03:40 PM
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