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Nick Macarchuk returns to Buffalo tonight, riding high with the Fordham University basketball team.

Fordham stands 12-6 entering tonight's game against Canisius College (8 p.m., Radio 930), the second half of a double-header at Memorial Auditorium. Holy Cross meets Niagara in the 6 p.m. opener (Radio 1440).

Macarchuk, in his third year at Fordham, has the Rams battling Holy Cross and Siena for first place in the North Division of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

But while the short-term outlook for the former Canisius coach is good, the future for the Fordham basketball program is a bit uncertain.

Fordham is leaving the MAAC after this season to join the Patriot League, a football-oriented circuit formerly known as the Colonial League.

The Patriot League, like the Ivy League, will not offer athletic scholarships, although grants-in-aid can be given to athletes who qualify. Fordham upgraded its football program from Division III to I-AA this year, and the move to the Patriot allows it to compete in a I-AA football league.

What does Macarchuk think of stepping back moving to a non-scholarship circuit?

"What I tell everybody who asks is I'm not going to answer that until I see what it's like in the Patriot League," he says.

The thought of losing athletic grants-in-aid is not very attractive.

"That's something I'm not sure I really like. I'm not sure how it's going to work out," Macarchuk admits.

The freshman class of '92 will be the final one to receive scholarships at Fordham.

But, as Macarchuk points out, Fordham will have a competitive advantage over the other Patriot schools for the next four years.

"The first year we're in the Patriot League, we ms in the hunt
have four classes on scholarship," he says. ". . . so for at least the first four years we're going to have scholarship athletes and the rest of the league, except for Holy Cross, isn't."

Holy Cross and Army are moving from the MAAC to the Patriot League along with Fordham. The other teams in the Patriot League will be Lafayette, Lehigh, Bucknell and Colgate.

While Fordham will have somewhat of a competitive edge in the Patriot, it might not translate into an NCAA Tournament bid.

Because it is a new league, the Patriot will have to wait three years to get an automatic bid. The Patriot League would like to get a waiver from the NCAA to reduce the waiting time. That has yet to come.

The 48-year-old Macarchuk has had no second thoughts about moving to the Bronx school.

"I'm happy at Fordham. I do not for one second think back to my decision (to go to Fordham) and regret it," Macarchuk says.

Macarchuk went 32-30 his first two years at Fordham and made the NIT his first season. He is in the third year of what is believed to be a five-year pact in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year.

The coming conference change also has raised speculation about what will happen when his contract runs out, and what type of commitment Fordham will have to a non-scholarship program. That, for now, is still two years down the road.

In the opener, Niagara (4-15, 3-6) meets a high-scoring Holy Cross (15-3, 6-1) team. The Crusaders are led by guard Dwight Pernell (20.0 ppg) and center Jim Nairus (13.4 ppg).

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