Those charged with stiffening the standards for membership in the NCAA's Division I claim they aren't trying to boot out any particular schools. But if reform proposals are passed at the NCAA convention in January, the nine schools in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference could be on their way out.
The MEAC, a league of historically black colleges, includes Coppin State, Morgan State and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The NCAA Special Committee to Review the NCAA Membership Structure has proposed legislation that would set spending minimums for schools that want to stay in Division I, and those minimums would put the squeeze on many smaller schools, especially in the MEAC.
"The reforms could have a tremendous impact on our members," said Ken Free, MEAC commissioner. "This could be a heavy convention."
The MEAC is not one of the major players in NCAA Division I athletics, but then neither are other leagues involving area schools, such as the East Coast or Northeast conferences. The MEAC last sent one of its football teams to the Division I-AA tournament in 1982. Since getting an automatic bid to the Division I basketball tournament in 1981, the MEAC has gone 0-10 in the event.
Free and the MEAC athletic directors will meet in December with officials of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the only other Division I league whose members are historically black schools. They will plan a course of action regarding the 85th annual NCAA convention in Nashville Jan. 7-11, but it is already clear that MEAC members oppose Proposals 91 and 92.
Proposal 91 would require Division I schools to fund a minimum number of scholarships for sports other than football and basketball. The minimums would be 25 scholarships for men and 25 for women, or spending $250,000 each for men's and women's non-revenue sports.
Proposal 92 would require them to sponsor at least seven men's and seven women's sports, and it would also count indoor track and field and outdoor track as one sport. The minimum now is six for men and six for women.
Schools would have until 1993-94 to comply with the reform package.
None of the three Maryland colleges in the MEAC come close to spending that kind of money on their non-revenue sports, and all three would have to create new teams to meet the new minimum of sports offered.
"There's no way that we would be able to meet stiffer requirements," said Dr. Hallie Essex Gregory, the athletic director at UMES. Both he and Coppin State's Ron DeSouza have entire athletic department budgets that are barely larger than what the proposed reforms would have Division I members spend just on scholarships for the so-called non-revenue sports.
Morgan State athletic director Leonard Braxton is more positive, but all three Maryland colleges would have problems meeting stricter standards, which larger, richer schools claim are necessary to pare down a Division I that has grown from 238 members in 1973 to 296 this year.
"The reform package affects the small guy more than anyone else," Braxton said. "Eventually, the black schools will have to come together for a common cause, and unity is one way of showing our displeasure. But whether it's a small white school or a small black school, the minority will fall."
The Eagles will run into trouble if Proposal 91 passes. DeSouza said that the school this year will spend less than $100,000 (the equivalent of 13 full scholarships) on scholarships for non-revenue sports. The proposed minimum is $500,000 for men's and women's sports combined.
"If Proposal 91 passes, we would have to come up with another $350,000 or so, and I'm not sure where that's going to come from," DeSouza said. "We just started an Eagle Club for fund-raising purposes, but there's no magic slush fund here."
DeSouza said the school could increase its student athletic fee of $150.
"We haven't had an increase in our student fee since we've been in Division I ," DeSouza said. "That's something the college will have to decide upon. We've got about 2,000 full-time students, and the money generated by their fees [approximately $300,000] provides our budget base. It's not a whole lot of money."
Coppin State got much publicity last winter, when Fang Mitchell's basketball team became the first from Baltimore to qualify for the NCAA tournament. DeSouza doesn't see the Eagles stepping back to Division II.
"We're not going to panic if these proposals pass," DeSouza said. "We'll see where we are, look at our resources, and try to find the money. I doubt very much whether we would go back [to Division II]. We can compete at this level."
The bulk of Coppin State's non-revenue scholarship money is being spent on wrestling and track and field. DeSouza said the school is building a track facility on its soccer field, and he hopes the $800,000 project is completed by spring 1992.