Trustees weigh Rice without football
By TODD ACKERMAN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle May 5, 2004, 6:42AM
Rice University trustees said Tuesday they favor staying in NCAA Division I sports, but they released a consultant's report whose workable options include dropping football.
In a statement issued with the 104-page report, trustees invited input about concerns involving the level at which Rice should participate and an annual $10 million athletics deficit that "must be brought under control." The statement indicates they have made no decision.
"At this point, the sense of the board is that Rice should continue to compete at the Division I level based on demonstrated success," said the statement. It then asked what the Rice community thinks is the best level, given the report's data.
Trustees plan to complete the review this month, the statement said. Input is invited until May 17.
The report, produced by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., lists four "viable" options, three of which would dramatically change Rice athletics: remain in Division I-A; drop to Division I-AA and eliminate football scholarships; drop to Division I-AAA and end football altogether; or drop to Division III, which prohibits all scholarships.
"There are, however, no easy answers for Rice," the report said. It made no recommendations but wrote favorably about the I-AAA option.
It said moving to I-AAA would transform Rice athletics by eliminating football, the program that requires the most admissions trade-offs and is the single largest contributor to the economic deficit. Under this option, said the report, Rice could shave about $3.4 million off its annual shortfall and improve its overall athletic grade-point average.
"I-AAA should be viewed as an opportunity to bow out of the football `arms race,' build more competitive teams in other sports and actively work to achieve broad athletic excellence on par with Rice's academic reputation," the report said.
Rice Athletic Director Bobby May said he was pleased to get the report but was not comforted that trustees favor staying in Division I, because they didn't specify which level. He expressed concern that they might opt to drop football.
"I hope there's a strong response from Rice athletic supporters that Division I-A is where we should remain," said May. "That's where we've always been, and that's what helps make Rice what it is."
May said it's important that the trustees' review be finished as soon as possible, because the perception that Rice could drop football or move to a less competitive level can be "damaging."
Faculty council speaker Ed Akin said he believes trustees will carefully review the issue and keep an open mind, even though they're strongly leaning against Division III. The faculty council released a poll Monday showing that a majority of professors favor Division III or an Ivy League-style conference that doesn't award scholarships.
The McKinsey report's biggest booster was history professor Thomas Haskell, a longtime critic of athletics and a member of the faculty council that also recently released a report criticizing the academic and financial costs of athletics.
"The McKinsey report is an extraordinary document, far more incisive and illuminating than anything I had dared hope for," said Haskell, adding that it "fearlessly" explores the consequences of all options. "It brings reason to bear where cult and dogma usually rule."
If Rice is to remain in Division I-A, said the report, it should work to improve fund raising and athletic performance. It also should increase athletes' academic qualifications; better integrate the athletic department (including its budget, management and student services) into the rest of the university; and set well-defined expectations for the cost of competition, specifically admissions trade-offs and finances.
Among the "less attractive options" the report listed were dropping to Division II or III except in baseball, moving everything to Division II, switching to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or eliminating formal intercollegiate athletics altogether in favor of club sports.
The board's statement also asked for input about a student-faculty recreation and convocation center, which also would serve as a venue for intercollegiate basketball and volleyball; and concerns about the admissions process for athletes and the need for better integration of athletes into student life.