Dick Dull, new athletic director at Cal State Northridge, said he spent the last few days telling people rumors about the demise of the Matador program are premature and to "wait and see."
Dull, who spent Sunday and Monday at the Big Sky Conference football convention here, insisted reports last week that the school canceled an order for new uniforms was not indicative of a lack of commitment to football.
"I think too many people are drawing conclusions by the fact that a uniform order didn't go through," Dull said.
Ben Bass, president of a Van Nuys-based sporting goods company, accused Northridge of backing out last week on a $15,000 order for 110 new uniforms.
Dull said the decision was based on lack of funding and that the school informed Bass in April that it would not order new uniforms.
Dull said he has documentation supporting his claim and he intends to meet with Bass.
"The decision had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Northridge will be playing football anymore," Dull said.
Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky, said Northridge has given the conference no indication it will not remain a member.
Last month, the Big Sky extended for one year a memorandum of understanding that provides for Northridge's permanent membership given a number of criteria. Paramount is construction of a football stadium, which Northridge gave final approval to in May.
Although it is unlikely the stadium will be completed by June, the deadline for the memorandum, Fullerton said the conference likely will have already made a decision then regarding Northridge.
"It's been a major concern of ours from the start," Fullerton said. "The presidents [of the conference] would have to be assured that the stadium process is far enough along, the approvals are in place, the funding is in place, and that it is going to happen. The answer will come before [June]."
Should the Matadors fail to fulfill their commitment to the Big Sky, Northridge conceivably could become a member of the Big West Conference, which likely will reconfigure to form an all-California conference, including schools that do not play football.
Fullerton acknowledged it might be a viable route for Northridge.
"I think they will solve their current problems with football," Fullerton said. "But 12 months from now, if the Big West does come to pass with a California league, they owe it to themselves as an institution to take a hard look if it is, in fact, a better option. There would be no malice from the Big Sky. They've been a good member."
Terrance Johnson, a Matador assistant appointed administrator-in-charge of the football program in the wake of coach Ron Ponciano's firing on Friday, presented a team overview at the three-day convention.
Johnson did not mention Ponciano or the turmoil surrounding the Northridge program, the focus of an eight-week internal investigation since the athletic department received an anonymous letter alleging NCAA violations.
"It's a little awkward situation," Johnson said. "I feel honored in a sense. They had confidence in me to have me here, but it's unfortunate the way I was brought in so rapidly and having to be the stand-in guy."
Northridge, which tied for second place in Ponciano's first season, was projected to contend for the conference title this season, given an exceptional recruiting class and the return of quarterback Marcus Brady, the 1998 Big Sky newcomer of the year.
The Matadors, however, were picked to finish eighth in a poll of coaches and seventh in a media poll. Defending champion Montana was picked to win in the nine-team conference in both polls.
"It's a tragic, tragic situation," Coach Mike Kramer of Eastern Washington said. "We have all been hearing about it. Marcus Brady is a great quarterback. They have some great players."
Coach John Volek of Cal State Sacramento, whose team is expected to be among the most improved, said Northridge might rally from the adversity.
"You'll have to follow them closely," Volek said. "This could be a rallying cry for them."
Ronney Jenkins, who rushed for a national single-game record 619 yards at Hueneme High in 1995, has transferred from Brigham Young to Northern Arizona, where he is expected to start at tailback for the Lumberjacks, who are picked to finish second.
Jenkins was suspended at Brigham Young in December for his second violation of school rules. He had 1,307 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns for the Cougars.
"Ronney Jenkins is an exceptionally talented player," Northern Arizona Coach Jerome Souers said. "He got married this spring, so he has settled down."