Division I-AA football: ‘no man’s land’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 11, 2000

The recent NCAA News recently called Division I-AA a football no man’s land. And with recent developments, it’s hard to argue that point.

According to the NCAA News, there is growing concern among prominent administrators about whether the subdivision that often operates in Division I-A’s shadow provides the best possible regular-season or postseason experience for schools and players. There is talk of mounting financial losses, and there is concern that too many I-AAs are leaving the nest for I-A, whether they belong there or not.

Even the Southwestern Athletic Conference is not immune to the latest trend.

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Alabama State recently announced it will go I-A in the near future.

In 1989, Louisiana Tech went I-A. In the 1990s, schools moving up a classification were Arkansas State University; University of Nevada, University of Louisiana at Monroe; University of North Texas; University of Alabama at Birmingham; Boise State University; University of Central Florida, University of Idaho; Marshall University; State University of New York at Albany; State University of New York at Buffalo and Middle Tennessee State University.

Next year California State University, Northridge; University of Connecticut; University of South Florida; and Troy State University will move up to I-A. SWAC schools compete in I-A in basketball and baseball, but Alabama State is the lone dissenter in football, and will probably be that way for a while.

&uot;No one has really talked about it right now,&uot;&160;said Alcorn State athletic director Lloyd Hill when asked if Alcorn would ever make such a move. &uot;And just because you make the move doesn’t mean you will make money.&uot;

According to the NCAA News, those left behind say the cause is an increasingly unstable level of play, which some say has to do more with the I-AA label than a belief that I-AA schools are that much different than many of their I-A counterparts.

Schools that call their football programs anything other than Division I-A are becoming increasingly frustrated and, some say, less able to market their game because of issues related to not being I-A. Alcorn head football coach Johnny Thomas said he admires Alabama State for going I-A, but doesn’t know if his alma mater will ever go that way.

&uot;Alabama State is hoping they can come up with a better product in terms of overall attendance with the need to improve their product,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;They are hoping to generate money and excitement to build a quality program which everyone is shooting for in athletics. That’s something I admire.&uot;

Alcorn will continue to play Alabama State.

Division I-AA currently employs a 16-team, four-week playoff structure under the auspices of the NCAA. It is a model often envied by I-A football observers. The playoff generates a great deal of excitement because it affords many teams the opportunity to be crowned a champion. But those who don’t make it, don’t get to share others’ success the way LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State do in connection with the SEC.

A possible short-term fix currently in the pipeline is a renewed focus on legislation to change the football attendance requirements for schools to be I-A members.

The proposal, which is in the comment phase of the Division I legislative process, would require Division I schools to average more than 17,000 in actual paid attendance for home games over a four-year period.

Right now that’s a still a problem at Alcorn, where &uot;crowds&uot; have not gone over 10,000 too many times since Steve McNair left.

Joey Martin is the sports editor of the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 445-3532 or by e-mail at joey.martin@natchezdemocrat.com.