Football or no football?
That is the important question for Cal State Northridge as the university contemplates its athletic future.
While the Matador football program remains mired in an internal investigation surrounding allegations of serious NCAA violations, the school this week had to confront another reality.
Which might kill Northridge football.
A June 30 deadline for the California State University system to comply with guidelines for gender equity in athletics has been extended until the end of the year, giving schools additional time to submit evidence of compliance.
Six years ago, the California chapter of the National Organization for Women sued the CSU system, alleging discrimination of women in sports.
Northridge--among the system's worst offenders, according to the suit--isn't expected to submit figures until September. Yet, the CSU's 1997-98 report lists Northridge among the bottom third in three major categories of compliance. Only five of 19 schools with intercollegiate athletic programs were in compliance.
"They were the most out of compliance then, and they probably are the most out of compliance now," said Linda Joplin, chair of the CAL-NOW athletic equity committee. "Their choices along the way have resulted in them setting up a situation [in which] they have a different road to take. They joined the Big Sky Conference, which requires they upgrade their football program. But that costs additional money, and there is not an immediate unlimited supply of additional funds."
Jim Goss, chair of Northridge's presidential advisory board on intercollegiate athletics, said the school expects to show improvement when the next statistics are released.
"We have been working very hard, and when the numbers come out this year, I expect we'll be pretty close," Goss said. "As far as scholarships, we are maximized in every women's sport. The only way to give more scholarships is to add more women's sports. Budget-wise, since 1995 we've increased every year money given to women's sports."
But football complicates matters at Northridge, which allocates 60 scholarships, throwing everything way off balance.
The logic of keeping football was hotly debated two years ago when Northridge eliminated four men's athletic teams, including baseball and volleyball, in trying to comply with gender-equity requirements and alleviate an $800,000 athletic department deficit.
Because of the school's commitment to the Big Sky, which required members to play football, and a passion among administrators and boosters to develop a major-college program, football was considered untouchable.
Public outcry prompted Northridge to reinstate the four men's sports but now the school, faced with the same budgetary and gender-equity woes, has come full circle.
Only with greater reason to contemplate its football future.
Last month, the Big Sky cracked down on Northridge's half-hearted attempts to meet the requirements of a memorandum of understanding, which provides for the school's permanent membership based on a number of criteria.
The conference extended the one-year agreement, but issued an ultimatum: Follow through with plans to build an on-campus stadium, reinstate men's tennis and upgrade existing athletic facilities, or leave the conference.
The 11th-hour drive to overturn the hiring of Richard Dull as Northridge athletic director apparently has reached a dead end.
Chancellor Charles Reed of the CSU, responding to demands by a civic group supporting Robert Arias, former Loyola Marymount athletic director and a finalist for the Northridge job, reviewed the selection process and supported the hiring of Dull. Reed was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.
Supporters of Arias petitioned state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa for a review at an on-campus news conference last month. Villaraigosa, a CSU trustee, wrote a letter to Reed asking for "intervention" and a "satisfactory resolution" to the matter.
"The chancellor reviewed the matter with [Northridge] Interim President [Louanne] Kennedy," CSU spokesman Ken Swisher said. "He let the speaker know that he did that, and that he feels the campus made a great selection."
Arias' supporters vowed to continue the fight.
"We are not going to take this lying down," said William "Blinky" Rodriguez, who spearheaded the drive. "We're going to get together again and meet with the rest of the [selection committee]"
Dull, former athletic director at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., was scheduled to start at Northridge this week but has been on campus sparingly because of illness.