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UB: I-A EXIT NOT AN ISSUE

There's nothing like a little controversy to stimulate conversation, and the latest has football programs such as the University at Buffalo falling out of Division I-A.

But UB Athletics Director Bob Arkeilpane said Thursday that it's not an issue and that the university will meet any NCAA criteria to remain on college football's top level.

Early this week, the NCAA's Management Council met in Indianapolis to discuss new requirements for Division I-A status in football. The chairman of that council, Charles Harris, told USA Today last week that based on suggested new attendance and schedule requirements, he would see "maybe 20 schools" falling out of Division I-A.

The proposed home attendance requirement would be an average of 15,000 actual fans per game annually. Also, all teams would have to schedule five home games against Division I-A opponents. Based on the preliminary discussions, each of these requirements would have to be met to stay in Division I-A.

USA Today published a chart suggesting that as many as 10 Mid-American Conference members, including UB, would face elimination from Division I-A for not accomplishing one or both of those standards.

Arkeilpane said it's merely a proposal and the school is not in jeopardy of losing its I-A status.

"You're not going to see I-A schools dropping out on an annual basis," said Arkeilpane. "I don't think anyone has played this thing out far enough and looked at all of the different ways it would impact other schools. For anyone to jump to conclusions that Buffalo could lose its status, or any other school could lose its status, is almost silly."

The league's athletics directors met for the past two days in Cleveland, and the league commissioner said he's more concerned with marketing the MAC and obtaining more television deals than losing teams. The proposal, which is in its infancy stages but could be passed next spring and go into effect by Aug. 1, 2004, is among the least of his concerns.

"It's so early," MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst said. "It's not a news story to us or, candidly, it's not anymore on the top of our minds than it was a week ago, two weeks ago or three weeks ago. Whatever standards are going to be ultimately adopted, I believe our schools will meet them."

The main reason for the proposal is the NCAA wants to stabilize I-AA football. Programs such as Marshall, Akron and Louisiana Tech have migrated to I-A over the last decade. The NCAA Management Council comprises representatives from I-A and I-AA schools.

The council is studying a number of requirements to maintain I-A status and the six primary components are:

1. Schools must award 90 percent of the full football scholarships (85) over a two-year rolling period. That means over any two-year period, more than 76 players must be on scholarship. Arkeilpane said he allocates the full allotment of 85 scholarships for UB football.

"That number would fluctuate around 82 or 83 because of factors you can't control: a kid leaving, someone become academically ineligible, injury," he said. "The full 85 has been allocated at Buffalo for a number of years, and we have no plan to back off on that."

2. Schools must maintain a minimum of five home games with Division I-A opponents. UB's schedule is full through 2008 with at least five I-A opponents, Arkeilpane said, including games against Syracuse, Rutgers, Temple and Connecticut. SU is scheduled to play in UB Stadium in 2004.

3. Schools must offer 16 varsity sports, with at least six men's and eight women's sports. Many believe this requirement will be modified. For example, the University of Miami, the No. 1-ranked football team in the nation in both major polls, would be eliminated from I-A because the private institution sponsors only 14 sports. UB has 20 varsity sports.

4. Schools must award 200 scholarships for varsity athletics, with at least $4 million in overall grant money. UB has awarded close to 220 scholarships this year, Arkeilpane said.

5. Schools must average at least 15,000 in home attendance each season. UB this year is averaging 15,342 through three home games, but MAC schools often fall short of 15,000. Six of the 13 conference schools averaged fewer than 15,000 in attendance last season, and a seventh, Northern Illinois, averaged 15,757. Of the 10 schools averaging fewer than 15,000 this season, five are MAC schools. Four others are averaging fewer than 19,000.

For UB, improving attendance could mean reallocating more financial and personal resources to marketing. It could mean enhancing the role of Rob Suglia, UB's student relations coordinator, whose primary role is to place programs that encourage students to attend games. Also, as the football program continues to rebuild and improve, attendance is expected to rise.

"The way the dust settles on this, it will cause us to tweak our plan," Arkeilpane said. "Whatever the mix has to be, we're very confident we're going to make it."

6. All existing exceptions in maintaining Division I-A status would be eliminated.

"We measure up very well using that criteria," Arkeilpane said. "All of the institutions, without any exceptions, in the MAC feel like with time and the appropriate planning that they'll make the attendance numbers as well.

"We will make the criteria."
The athletics directors meetings were held in concert with the conference's men's and women's basketball media events.

The UB men's basketball team, which has six newcomers, was picked to finish last in the MAC's East Division by members of the league's News Media Association. It wasn't a surprise for coach Reggie Witherspoon.

"It was expected," he said. "Each team in our division returns key players."

Kent State was picked to finish first in the East, followed by Marshall, Ohio, Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), Akron and UB. Central Michigan was picked to finish first in the West, followed by Ball State, Toledo, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan.

Witherspoon was just happy to be able to start practice on time this year. Last season, UB couldn't start practice until Nov. 1 because of NCAA sanctions. "It was like being a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest," said Witherspoon of starting practice so late.
A tie in the voting resulted in a six-man preseason All-MAC team, which was also conducted by the members of the MAC media. The members are Ball State's Theron Smith, Central Michigan's David Webber, Kent State's Trevor Huffman, Marshall's Tamar Slay and J.R. VanHoose, and Ohio's Brandon Hunter.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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