Restructuring' debate rages as NCAA convenes Geiger questions timing of legislation

January 07, 1991|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Correspondent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Among the items competing for spac on Andy Geiger's slightly cluttered desktop last week were a sizable stack of business letters.

The letter on top, sent by an administrator at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., was typical of most that have been trickling into Geiger's office the past few weeks. It lobbied passionately for a vote against a controversial set of new rules that the nation's college presidents and sports administrators will be considering this week at the 85th National Collegiate Athletic Association convention here.

Specifically, the "restructuring" legislation would relocate hundreds of schools from the glamour of Division I to virtual invisibility in Division II unless they increase their number of sports teams and invest, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional athletic scholarships.

Geiger is athletic director at the University of Maryland's College Park campus, a school that will remain Division I whether the rules pass, fail or are ripped out of the convention brochure. For that reason alone, you'd figure he'd be solidly in favor of rules that would toss out the smaller schools.

But he isn't. At least, not now.

As of last week, Geiger said Maryland officials hadn't decided how they'd vote on restructuring. Then Geiger expressed doubts about whether the legislation should be supported.

"I have mixed feelings about the package," Geiger said. "I think the criteria should have been set a long time ago. We've waited until we got too big, and now we complain about the fact that we're too big."

In the past decade, Division I has become an increasingly popular place to be for large universities and smaller ones with big-time sports ambitions. Since 1973, Division I has grown from 238 members to 296, as more and more schools have attempted to balance their athletic budgets with earnings from the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

A number of Maryland schools are among the 58 who have made the jump. Since 1983, for example, Morgan State, Coppin State, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Mount St. Mary's have upgraded their basketball teams to Division I.

If restructuring succeeds, those schools and others would be faced with a painful and potentially costly decision: drop back to Division II, or play by the new, expensive rules of Division I.

For administrators on Maryland's College Park campus, the vote means means siding either with fellow members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who are expected to support restructuring, or standing with its neighbors around the state.

"At College Park, we're members of the ACC that plays, quote-unquote, major sports. We also happen to be under the University of Maryland system," Geiger said.

He left the impression that local loyalties would prevail.

"I don't think it is time for Towson State to be left out," he said. "I don't think we should ride roughshod over members of the University of Maryland system."

Nevertheless, Geiger said the small guys now outnumber the big guys, and the legislation will not pass. "I don't think it's hard to figure out that people aren't going to vote themselves out of existence," he said.

The restructuring proposals, however, do have backers, including some of the most prominent convention-goers. They include the 17 members of a special committee that reviewed the NCAA's membership structure and recommended rules changes that will be considered at this convention. That committee, whose chairman was Southwest Conference commissioner Fred Jacoby, included representatives of schools now classified as Division I-AA and I-AAA, schools that conceivably could be knocked out of big-time athletics if their recommendations are approved.

In addition, the proposals for restructuring have the support of NCAA executive director Dick Schultz, who said the intent of the committee's recommendations is, among other things, to prevent schools from pouring money into their basketball programs while treating the rest of their teams as "club sports."

"What the committee is saying is, 'OK, if you are going to be in Division I, here are the minimum standards to meet,' " Schultz said, adding that, under the current rules, "What you have in the eyes of many are schools that are Division I in basketball only and in the others aren't more than club sports. Without coaches being sent to competitions. With [virtually] no financial aid."

Nowhere have the restructuring proposals been more closely examined and fretted about than on the campuses of the Maryland colleges where the outcome of the votes will be felt most keenly.

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