NCAA rules passed Thursday give SJSU only two years to meet new conditions if it hopes to keep its Division I-A football standing.
The NCAA's board of directors, in a decision seemingly intended to purge major college football of lower-echelon programs, approved legislation that includes:
• Playing five homes games against Division I-A schools each season.
• Averaging 15,000 spectators for home games.
• Offering a minimum of 200 athletic scholarships overall or spending at least $4 million on scholarships.
Though anticipated for months, the requirements put the onus on SJSU to upgrade its program by an August 2004 deadline because the school currently does not meet these standards.
The fallout from this latest NCAA decision could create a ripple effect, forcing further changes in the SJSU athletic department.
``I am convinced that we can do this,'' SJSU President Robert Caret said last week at a Mercury News editorial board meeting. ``I don't want to lose any sports, but they might change a bit. But one of the changes will not be football leaving.''
The NCAA, though, has ensured that the decision no longer rests solely with Caret.
The conditions complicate an already difficult situation for SJSU -- a commuter school striving to save football without losing other sports in an era of unchecked spending by the Nebraskas, Floridas and Notre Dames.
``I've only got so much maneuverability,'' Caret said. ``There's no guarantees for any sports during this shakeout. We just have to see how it plays out.''
The powers of college football have gone to great pains not to dismiss schools such as SJSU. But Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer, one of the most influential men in college football, said: ``I've always been concerned about people who are financially attempting to reach a classification that's unrealistic. Instead of pushing football, they end up dropping football.''
NCAA President Ced Dempsey added Thursday that schools on the bubble have known for a year what to expect.
``They know they have to step up,'' he said.
Last fall, Caret said he needed six years to make football fiscally sound. Now, he has less time to overcome an attendance requirement he considers unfair even though all fans, not only paying ones, count.
``We live in a place where people can do 500 different things on a Saturday,'' Caret said. ``There should be different milestones for different campuses.''
In its four home games last year, SJSU averaged 10,207 fans at 30,356-seat Spartan Stadium.
Caret has enlisted professional marketers to promote SJSU football. The school also is trying to work with local corporations to sell more tickets as well as reach out to community colleges and even Santa Clara University and University of the Pacific alums, who lost their football programs last decade.
``There's some other tricks we can try,'' Caret said. ``If we were to play Stanford or Fresno State at Pac Bell Park, we could both claim the attendance as a home game.''
The five required home games could become another obstacle because SJSU prefers scheduling road games that result in large payouts from the opposing schools. Those payments -- as much as $400,000 per game -- are instrumental in keeping the athletic department afloat.
The Spartans, who have had one winning season in the past decade and were 3-9 last year, once again have only four home games this fall.
SJSU will play 13 games with no bye weeks. They will travel 23,574 miles round trip for their nine road games. Those contests include trips to Ohio State, Washington and defending Big Ten champion Illinois.
Still, Coach Fitz Hill remains convinced entering his second season that SJSU can become a consistent winner and draw more fans.
``We'll do that,'' Hill said confidently of getting 15,000 fans a game. ``That's not going to be a problem at all. I'm not saying that we're going to pack it out, but if we play an exciting brand of football, it will change.''
Caret also said it would cost SJSU about $150,000 more to meet the scholarship number, another revised requirement.
Former NCAA president Joseph Crowley sees a clear division between the three-dozen major programs and the rest of the 115 I-A football schools.
``It may be in the end this will be a constructive sorting-out process,'' he said.
Caret cringes at the idea of being weeded out. While playing golf with Dempsey last summer, Caret said he was asked: ``Wouldn't you be better off at I-AA?''
``The truth of that is no,'' Caret explained. ``If you're going to play football . . . you either play Division I football or you don't play football. That's pretty much where we are.''
SJSU appears to meet one NCAA requirement that says schools must have six men's sports and eight women's sports. But that, Caret said, is only on paper. Because the Western Athletic Conference doesn't have enough men's soccer teams to compete for a WAC league championship, SJSU's program doesn't count toward the required six, Caret said.
``So we would probably have to add a sport -- probably men's indoor track,'' he said.
SJSU doesn't have an indoor track facility and is considering paving over its outdoor track at Bud Winters Field and turning it into a parking lot.
Under that scenario SJSU would be forced to add another women's sport to meet gender-equity requirements.
It would seem highly unlikely that an SJSU athletic department that already is running deficits would add two non-revenue sports without cutting out others. Last summer, school administrators looked at eliminating sports, including men's soccer, in a cost-cutting measure.
However, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said schools can satisfy NCAA conditions by sponsoring the minimum number of varsity sports in multiple conferences.
It is confusing because the board of directors Thursday also passed legislation for I-A conference membership. To remain a major college conference, the leagues must sponsor six men's and eight women's sports as well as have at least eight members by 2005. The WAC currently meets the conditions.
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