CSUN Narrows Recruiting Horizons : Academic Restrictions Turn Division II Programs From High Schools to Junior Colleges

Times Staff Writer

When Bob Burt became football coach at Cal State Northridge two years ago, he promised to bring home a winner. And he has. The Matadors are 15-7 during his tenure.

His plan to keep Northridge near the top of the Western Football Conference standings is undergoing revision, however.

Burt originally planned to phase out junior college recruiting and go directly to the high schools to sign players. But legislation passed by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. last year altered his thinking.

Division II schools used to have less stringent academic restrictions than Division I, but that is no longer the case. As of Aug. 1, admission standards for athletes will be the same for both divisions.

As a result, there probably will not be another athlete as gifted as Albert Fann signing with Northridge out of high school in the near future. Fann, a 6-2, 215-pound All-City Section running back at Cleveland High in 1986, was considered a blue-chip prospect until a poor grade made him ineligible for Division I under Proposition 48, which requires freshman athletes to score a combined 700 on entrance exams and to receive a C average in core classes.

Fann's grades were acceptable in Division II, however, much to the benefit of Northridge. He was a starter as a freshman last season and gained 822 yards in becoming a first-team All-Western Football Conference selection.

"Albert Fann was not a bad student. He's not a valedictorian, but he's not a bad student," Burt said. "He had a problem with a geometry instructor. He took the class over and got a very good grade in it--but it was too late for Prop. 48. Now kids like him have no choice."

Athletes in a similar situation this season will have to go to a junior college and earn an associate in arts degree to become eligible for Division I.

That puts Northridge and other Division II schools in direct competition with major universities that routinely have three times as much scholarship money or more.

"We're in there with everyone else in Southern California who is giving full rides," Burt said. And that is not a good position to be in for Northridge, which can't afford to offer a full scholarship to any player.

"Before, we could offer a partial scholarship to a youngster who couldn't qualify under Prop. 48 and we could still get a good student and a good football player," Burt said. "Half or two-thirds was enough because they couldn't get in someplace where they could get a full-ride."

Now, Burt said, the only thing a Division II school can offer a player considering Division I is a better chance to play.

So Northridge must dig deep into the junior college ranks.

Under current rules, Division II does not require junior college athletes to earn an AA degree to qualify for a scholarship. Burt fears that, too, might change.

"That would destroy Division II recruiting," he said. "It would force us to do one thing and that's go to complete, full rides. If we didn't, then what advantage would there be for a young man to go to a Division II school?"

Currently, many junior college players choose to accept offers from Division II schools and transfer at mid-year rather than wait for another semester and finish their work for an AA degree. By transferring at mid-year, players have the advantage of attending spring practice.

Northridge already has signed nine junior college players and expects to sign almost a dozen more in the next week. Conversely, the Matadors probably will sign a maximum of six high school players.

Coaches would rather sign high school players because having players over a period of four to five years lends stability.

"It gives you a chance to plan your program over a long period of time," Burt said. "You can develop a . . . work ethic and a system of athletic values over a period of four years. It's just a better way to go."

He stopped short of predicting doom for the Northridge program, however.

"It doesn't mean you can't be successful with athletes over a two-year period," Burt said. "We've proven that you can. But it makes it much more difficult."

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