The battle over which schools will be eligible to play Division I college basketball comes to a head on Jan. 10-12 in San Diego at the NCAA's annual convention. The NCAA Council, mostly representatives from major athletic powers, has warned that the "seemingly uncontrolled growth of Division I membership...poses a threat to the continued successful operation of the association."
Indeed, since 1974 the Division I membership in basketball has increased by 40 schools to a total of 277. To reverse this pattern, the NCAA leaders are backing Proposal 71, which redefines eligibility for Division I. Under Proposal 71, to gain or retain membership in the division, a college that doesn't play Division I football would have to meet all the following criteria:
?Sponsor at least eight Division I varsity sports for men;
?Play not more than four basketball games against non-Division I teams;
?Average more than 3,500 per game in home paid attendance or average more than 110,000 in annual paid attendance;
?Award financial aid amounting to at least half the total permitted under NCAA rules geared to football, which means each school would have to give out at least 42� athletic scholarships or the equivalent in cash grants, estimated at $5,000 per grant. This works out to a minimum of $212,500, a substantial sum for a small college. The NCAA permits a school to award only 15 men's basketball scholarships, so at non-football schools the remaining grants would presumably have to be doled out in the so-called minor sports.
There's a lot of opposition to Proposal 71—insiders estimated that as of last weekend the provision in its current form probably wouldn't pass—and not just among the 40 or so colleges that could conceivably be forced out of Division I (among them the likes of Fordham, Loyola of Chicago, Pepperdine, Creighton, Niagara, North Carolina-Charlotte, Alabama-Birmingham and the entire membership of the Trans America Athletic Conference). Officials at such schools feel they are on a hit list. Basketball is a big sport at many of these institutions, some of which have been playing the game at the highest level for 50 years or more, but maintaining seven other varsity sports is economically unfeasible for a lot of them. A good number of these colleges don't have basketball arenas large enough to meet Proposal 71 's home-attendance requirement. Many of the lesser Division I schools (as well as some of the prominent ones) play a mix of Division I and non-Division I teams, and confining their schedules to all of one or all of the other would be difficult and undesirable.
And most of the lesser schools, particularly those that don't play football, resent the number of scholarships or grants they'd be obliged to hand out. "It's totally unfair to make a judgment on basketball based on a football program," says Pat Malley, athletic director and football coach at Santa Clara.
Fred Cooper, who is the Assistant to the President for Athletics at Florida's Stetson University, says, indignantly, "The most strident arguments in favor of such things as [Proposal 71] are made by people who do not have to cope with budget problems. They have no knowledge of budgets. They have all sorts of funding, and it's the poor taxpayers who pick up the bill."