I-AAA concept spurs NCAA squabble Proposal viewed as a financial issue


The dilemma is nationwide. To vote or not to vote? To go or not to go? Those are the questions for NCAA member schools -- especially those playing Division I-AA football -- when it comes to the issue of I-AAA. That is the debate going on as this year's convention approaches.

A little history: After legislation was passed in January that would force Division I-A schools to play on that level in all sports by 1993, a committee was formed to look into the possibility that would allow those schools to "play down" in other sports, primarily football.

The committee, chaired by Dayton associate athletic director Elaine Dreidame, had a compromise: Division I-AAA. It would give schools such as Towson State and Morgan State the chance to continue at the I-A level in some sports, but to offer other sports on a need-only non-scholarship basis. It will be voted on in January.

"It's unfair, unhealthy and unsafe for non-scholarship schools to play scholarship schools in football," said Dreidame. "This is a chance to create a level playing field."

It's also unlikely that Division I-AAA will breeze through the convention membership, even though it has the support of most Division II and III schools, as well as the approval of both the NCAA Presidents' Commission and its Executive Council.

According to Frank Rienzo, athletic director at Georgetown and one of the chief proponents of the Division I-AAA concept, the problems are dollars and sense. Those Division I-AA schools that can afford to play competitively on that level don't want to lose a chunk of their opposition and thus would be faced with the prospect of playing more I-As. Nice for the bank account, bad for the won-lost record.

"I think if it's voted on reason, it will pass," said Rienzo, whose Hoyas play Division III football. "I think if it's voted on emotion, there are some people in this country that want everyone to look like them. Division I-AAA is so appetizing that they're afraid people are going to play it."

Though there was a feeling at last year's convention that mostly Midwest schools with big-time Division I-A programs in both football and basketball were against the I-AAA concept, it's not that simple. It's also successful Division I-AA football programs in the West who might have trouble filling a schedule if potential opponents dwindle to a select few.

One Division I-AA school that plans to vote against the concept is the University of Nevada (formerly Nevada-Reno). Currently the No. 1-ranked team in the country in Division I-AA, the Wolf Pack will be moving up with the big boys next fall. They are currently I-A in basketball.

"One-Triple A is purely a financial issue," said Nevada associate athletic director Pharbus Harper. "We understand where some schools can't afford to continue on the Division I-AA level. But if we have Division I-A, I-AA, I-AAA, as well as divisions II and III. You have so many damn divisions. You have to draw the line somewhere."

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