Changing Divisions Baffles Some Smaller Schools
LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ Siena College plays football on a field most high schools would be ashamed of.
A well-kicked extra point is in danger of landing in the woods at either end of the field. The school claims to have attracted a total of 3,150 people to its four home games last year, but no one knows how all those Saints fans were packed into five rows of bleachers.
Yet Siena, with an enrollment of 2,700 and a 1992 record of 2-7, is making the big jump this year from Division III football to Division I-AA.
The Saints are not alone. Twenty-seven schools also are upgrading their football programs from Divisions III and II to Division I-AA, one rung below the big time of Division I-A, but up there with respected football schools such as The Citadel and Georgia Southern.
For many Division III colleges, it’s a forced migration.
A new NCAA rule says if a school competes at the Division I level in all sports but football, it must either eliminate football, upgrade the program, or drop its other sports to football’s level.
″If you’re going to make a commitment to Division I, it should be a Division I program in all sports,″ said Steve Mallonee, NCAA director of legislative services.
Athletic directors and coaches complain that putting the likes of Siena in the same classification as a Northern Iowa - which pulled in 85,263 fans last year and upset I-A rival Iowa State - hurts competition more than helps it. The realignment is in name only, they say, and some worry about its effect on Division I-AA football scholarships.
″This doesn’t make any sense to me. I think we’re absolutely crazy,″ said Jake Crouthamel, athletic director at I-A power Syracuse and former football coach at I-AA Dartmouth. ″I hope ... we can change this screwy arrangement.″
Part of what irks Crouthamel is that some schools, Siena included, have found a way to sidestep the spirit of the new rule. If they can do that, why put them in the higher division at all, he asks.
Siena, proud of its Division I basketball team, will be part of the non- scholarship Metro Athletic Atlantic Conference with five other new I-AA teams where basketball also is king: St. Peter’s, Iona, Canisius, Georgetown and St. John’s.
No one would confuse these teams with a Division I-A squad. Siena, which was playing club football only six years ago, was hard-pressed last year to beat Hartwick, which was playing its first football season in 50 years.
But by forming the league, the schools have ensured they’ll play half their games against Division I-AA opponents, as required by the NCAA, but won’t significantly change their competition or expenses.
″We call it cost-containment football,″ Canisius athletic director Daniel Starr said. ″We’re kind of having our cake and eating it, too.″
Both Starr and Siena athletic director John D’Argenio readily admit their schools are in no position to compete against the likes of defending I-AA champion Marshall.
That’s not the point, Starr said. The point is to find a way to offer football to students who want to play without sacrificing other sports, particularly basketball.
With a student population of 4,600, Canisius needs to keep its nearly 100 football players enrolled, Starr said.
Ithaca coach Jim Butterfield bemoaned the loss to I-AA of teams such as Dayton, which has played in the Division III championship five times since 1980.
″I would say it’s not going to have much effect on the Division I people,″ said Butterfield, who has guided the Bombers to three Division III titles. ″The disadvantage to us is losing a team like Dayton. I hate to lose that kind of competition.″
Meanwhile, Marshall coach Jim Donnan is concerned the new, non-scholarship schools could take Division I-AA in their own direction.
He’ll be upset, he says, if the new schools vote in favor of a proposal in January that would cut the maximum number of I-AA football scholarships that schools can award from 65 to 45.
″I’m not pre-judging them,″ Donnan said. ″But in our conference we like what we have, we feel like we’ve got a good game, and we’d like to continue as we are.″
Donnan probably wouldn’t be too happy with Siena coach Jack DuBois, who mentioned the scholarship-cutting proposal as a way to increase the pool of talent for lower-echelon I-AA schools.
″We realize our limitations,″ said DuBois. ″But as time goes on, we will become competitive.″
Those who seem happiest about the realignment are the athletes. Siena has made a commitment to football by upgrading its program, and everyone is taking the game more seriously, players said during a break in three-a-day workouts.
″You can’t screw around at all this year,″ Saints quarterback Damon Bieniek said. ″I was two seconds late this morning and I did sprints.″
Players joke that being a Division I-AA school gives them a chance to impress others by saying, ″I play D-1 football.″
But you can’t use the line at Siena, said senior tight-end Scott Paskewitz, because ″everybody around here knows who we are.″
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