Cal State Northridge administrators have discussed disbanding the school's embattled football program after the 1999 season, sources said, and the coaching staff is in a state of flux.
Rob Phenicie, the Matadors' offensive coordinator for the last two years, is leaving the program, sources said. And Matador Coach Ron Ponciano, who took over the program last year, said his status with the team is uncertain.
The events are unfolding against a backdrop of gender-equity concerns and fallout from an investigation into alleged rules violations sparked by an anonymous letter.
"I'm meeting with the administration next week," said Ponciano, who declined further comment regarding his situation.
Phenicie is the fourth key assistant to leave the Northridge program since the end of last season.
"[Northridge] lost probably its best football coach, without question," Ponciano said of Phenicie, who was the architect of the Matadors' pass-oriented offense.
Sources said Phenicie met with school Interim President Louanne Kennedy earlier this week to discuss his leaving. Phenicie was not available for comment.
"As far as we know, at this point and time, we plan to be playing football beyond the end of the upcoming season," Kennedy said in a prepared statement.
A Northridge spokesman acknowledged "theoretical discussions" might have taken place regarding the school's commitment to football.
"We have issues to resolve with the Big Sky Conference, and there probably have been times when officials have said, 'What will happen if we can't resolve these issues?' " said John Chandler, a school spokesman. "From the university's view, these would be hypothetical discussions, which we have all the time."
Jim Goss, chair of the president's advisory board on intercollegiate athletics, said dropping football is not an option to help Northridge comply with gender-equity requirements.
"Cutting football is something that is not on the table," Goss said. "At this point, as a university, philosophically, we do not believe in cutting men's sports in order to reach gender equity."
The Matadors have been thrust into turmoil in recent weeks, with a campus board of inquiry investigating allegations of NCAA violations by the football program.
The investigation was initiated after the Matador athletic department received an anonymous letter on May 19 alleging various infractions.
Sam Jankovich, the interim athletic director until this week, was not specific but called the allegations "potential serious violations."
Jankovich on Thursday was replaced by Richard Dull, former athletic director at Maryland.
Ponciano said the allegations were unfounded and maintained his program, among the upstarts in Division I-AA and the Big Sky Conference, would be vindicated.
The Matadors last season had a 7-4 record, 5-3 in conference play, and came within one victory of winning the Big Sky title.
Phenicie was a major factor in Northridge's success, fine-tuning the team's complex and explosive run-and-shoot offense, among the most productive in I-AA.
He was the Northridge wide receivers and quarterbacks coach in 1997 under former coach Jim Fenwick and became the offensive coordinator later in the season.
Staff writer Vince Kowalick contributed to this story.