NASHVILLE,TENN. — NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The future of Johns Hopkins University's Division I lacrosse team probably was secure before the start of business at the National Collegiate Athletic Association convention yesterday.
Today, if possible, it's more so.
On the final day of the 85th annual NCAA meeting, Hopkins' situtation remained unchanged when delegates narrowly rejected a proposal to prohibit Division II and III schools from venturing into Division I with one or more sports teams.
Even if the proposed rule had passed, Hopkins -- whose teams are Division III except for lacrosse, in which it is a historic Division I power -- could have remained in that classification if a majority of 52 Division I lacrosse schools agreed. If not a certainty, such approval would be close, said Hopkins athletic director Bob Scott.
"We would be very comfortable that Division I schools who play lacrosse would support Hopkins playing up," Scott said. "I have talked to enough schools we play. I'd be confident of their support."
Towson State did not fare as well in votes affecting restructuring. Urged on by the NCAA's smallest schools, the convention approved legislation that ends the practice of Division I schools fielding football teams at Division II and Division III levels.
The smaller schools were euphoric. For years, many have griped that the winners of Division III football championships rightly should be true Division III schools, not a Division I giant that, for financial reasons, may not want to compete in football at that level.
"The Presidents Commission, the steering committee, the restructuring, even our Old Testament prophets support 53 [the rule proposal that restricts Division III to Division III schools]," said David Warren, president of Ohio Wesleyan, one of the most impassioned speakers. "How long, oh, Lord, must we in Division III endure Division II and Division I playing down?"
Towson State officials took the opposite position. The university has struggled under the weight of its Division I-AA football commitment, almost deciding to disband the team last year.
Towson State president Hoke Smith hoped to protect the university's right to field a less costly Division II or Division III football team, though he said there is no such plan under consideration now.
"This [the proposed rule] wouldn't have immediately altered the future of football," he said. "But it would have preserved our options."
As one door closed to Towson, however, another appeared to crack open when delegates approved overwhelmingly a resolution to study the creation of a new, Division I-AAA football classification.
The classification would be an odd hybrid of big and small. Technically, the teams would be Division I, under the same umbrella as Notre Dame, Penn State and other Division I-A glamour boys. But it is expected that Division I-AAA would offer onlyneed-based aid, include no spring football practice and play only a 10-game schedule.
Among the Division I schools likely to join would be the 27 who, because of rules passed yesterday, are soon to be exiles from Division II and Division III. There is no Maryland school in that position.
The list includes Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Georgetown University in Washington. Georgetown athletic director Frank Rienzo said he was favorably impressed with the Division I-AAA concept, but would withhold final judgment until a proposal is presented at the NCAA convention next year.
The new division might also appeal to schools such as Towson State that are taking a financial beating with their present Division I-AA teams. Last season, the Tigers offered 45.6 football scholarships. The scholarship limit for Division I-AA, revised downward this week, is 63.
"We're interested in anything available to us that will help our football team and not be so expensive," said Towson State athletic director Bill Hunter, referring to the possibilities raised by a Division I-AAA football division.
For Johns Hopkins, yesterday's votes only deferred what many delegates believe is inevitable. The proposal defeated yesterday a prohibition on Division III teams stepping up in one or more sports -- actually was approved by Division I and Division III delegates. It did not carry in Division II, however, failing, 75-107, and so it was not adopted.
Many objected not to the substance of the proposed rule but to a perceived loophole that required a majority, in Hopkins' case, of 52 Division I lacrosse schools to support the exception, not a majority of those that actually vote.
Scott said he expected the proposal to be returned to the convention next year, with that imperfection corrected.
In any case, Hopkins officials do not appear worried.
"I've talked to enough Division I schools that we play to have a good feeling they'll be supportive of it," Scott said.
One vote Hopkins apparently can bank on is from the University of Maryland. Athletic director Andy Geiger said the Terps wholeheartedly would support an exception. "They're Division I in that sport," he said. "They've always been. There's no desire to change that."
Then, Geiger hinted that a vote against Hopkins might not be the most neighborly act he could imagine.
"If we voted down Hopkins, I might just have had to keep going," he said, smiling.