The Big Sky Conference has welcomed Cal State Northridge with open arms. That was the easy part.
All Northridge has to do now is figure out how to add two sports and triple its football scholarships without expanding the budget too much, weakening existing sports or creating a gender-equity nightmare.
Ask Northridge officials if they have enough money for all that and they are quick to point out that Northridge's overall athletic budget is similar to those of other Big Sky schools.
That's great, but those schools each have about five fewer sports than Northridge.
In order to reach the Big Sky's request for 63 football scholarships, Northridge must add 43. For Northridge administrators to say they have the money for that is like someone saying, "Sure, I have enough money to buy that boat. I just have to sell my house."
The money for the football scholarships, and for those going to the new Big Sky-mandated women's golf and men's tennis teams, is there. But right now it's paying for the education of softball players, men's volleyball players and soccer players.
So who's going to tell Joe Volleyball or Bob Soccer, "Sorry, your scholarship is gone because we want to have the best darn Division I-AA football team in the country"?
Joe Volleyball might say, "Excuse me, but we already had one of the best Division I men's volleyball teams in the country."
Someone also might have to tell Joe Volleyball, "Sorry, since we have all these men getting football scholarships, we have to give your scholarship to the women's volleyball team. Gender equity, you know."
Now, it may be a little early for all this conjecture.
A task force of coaches, students, faculty and administrators met Wednesday to start figuring out how the dollars can be rearranged into a Big Sky configuration without causing too much havoc.
"I'll be anxious to see what direction they are going," said Paul Bubb, Northridge athletic director.
The options: create more revenue, cut spending or a combination of both.
Northridge's athletic budget is about $4.3 million. In order to make the necessary Big Sky additions, Northridge needs about another $600,000, Bubb said.
As for creating more revenue, the hope hangs on increased fund-raising efforts or playing football games as the sacrificial lamb to a Division I-A team in exchange for a big payday.
The guarantees for such games typically range from $65,000 to $250,000, but Northridge isn't likely to get the big money unless it can schedule Nebraska or Florida State. More likely is New Mexico or Texas El Paso, and that means the guarantee would be closer to $65,000.
There is also hope that enrollment at Northridge will begin to creep back up to its pre-earthquake levels as the campus continues to heal. More students, of course, mean more student fees going to athletics. But every 1,000 students adds only about $60,000 to athletic coffers, Bubb said.
If the extra costs can't be recovered in extra revenue, there will have to be cuts. And because of gender-equity regulations that say men's and women's sports must receive roughly equal funding from the university, the women's sports aren't likely to be cut while 43 more men are getting football scholarships.
The men's sports not covered by the Big Sky Conference umbrella are baseball, volleyball, soccer and swimming. Logic dictates those sports are first in line on the chopping block.
But from a scholarship standpoint, Northridge wouldn't save much by cuts to those sports. As of August, Northridge had issued 8.1 scholarships in baseball, 2.3 in men's volleyball, 3.6 in men's soccer and 2.5 in men's swimming. Northridge already competes significantly below the NCAA scholarship limit in those sports.
If one of the sports was dropped, the savings would be greater because it would also mean one or two fewer coaches to pay, as well as reduced costs of equipment, travel, etc.
But who wants to cut the baseball or volleyball teams, which have been among the school's most successful? Or the soccer team, which is among the most popular? And cutting men's swimming while keeping the women won't make a dent in the budget because the two teams have the same coaches and often travel together.
Yet, there's no turning back on the Big Sky. The conference has already accepted Northridge with the understanding that the program will meet its football and core-sport requirements within three years.
"It's going to be quite a challenge," Bubb said.
This task force has been entrusted with quite a task.