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October 17, 2004

David-And-Goliath Complex: I-AA Seeks Its Place In The Sun

FROM DIVISION I-AA SCHOOLS AND CONFERENCES come many voices calling for enhancements that would elevate the legitimacy of the football-only division as well as provide greater differentiation from the dominant Division I-A.

The impetus for change comes from widespread misunderstanding—much of it from people who should know better—about what exactly the I-AA classification means. A common misconception is that I-AA extends to all teams a school, when in fact it applies to football teams only.

D-1AA Gateway Conference Commissioner Patty Viverito expressed some frustration regarding this false impression, "[Division I-AA is] automatically characterized as a mid-major or something less than the top for all sports. The media in many ways is uneducable, and I'm not sure any amount of name-changing will change perception."

Ms. Viverito was referring to the possibility of changing the division’s classification to something other than I-AA (which is quite close to Division I-A).

Other enhancements proposed and under consideration include:

• Increasing television exposure for D1-AA. Recently ESPN and ESPN2 signed on to carry Division I-AA Football Championship.

• Changing the seeding process to allow seeding 16 teams. After the 9-11 attacks, seeding was reduced to reduce travel. The prevailing thought is that now it’s time to seed more teams.

• Allowing I-A teams to count a game each year against a I-AA team toward bowl eligibility. Current rules allow this only once every four years.

• Changing the NCAA reimbursement structure, which is often insufficient to cover travel expenses for playoff teams.

Although these enhancements sound like they will make I-AA look quite like I-A, most I-AA member institutions claim they are not trying to be I-A.

Further, some schools have jumped to I-A without really thinking things through. New NCAA criteria this year—such as a minimum attendance average of 15,000—have made I-A eligibility more difficult. Some think the stricter standards are too tough, others don’t.

"We have so many schools that heed the siren's call and get dashed on the rocks as they move to I-A," said Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky Conference.

The lure of I-A football has drawn many schools into its ranks. It has been fueled by a complex combination of ego, status, alumni pressure, administration derring-do and marketing to potential student applicants.

So I-A will continue to drive the bus, and I-AA will grab a seat wherever it can.

More later . . . .


(this 402 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 2281 word article from the NCAA News of 10-11-04)