Rice smallest school in top tier of NCAA

Updated: May 22, 2004, 11:12 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Rice University, the smallest NCAA Division I-A school, will remain in the top tier of college athletics, school officials said Friday.

"We unanimously concluded that in today's world, Division I-A remains the best place for Rice," said Bill Barnett, chairman of the private Houston school's board of trustees.

The board at the 2,800-student school earlier this month released a 104-page report from a management consulting firm that examined athletics and suggested options that included everything from remaining in Division I-A to eliminating sports.

At the time, the board said it favored keeping the university in the NCAA's highest level of sports even though Rice faces an annual $10 million athletics budget deficit.

"Certainly, many supporters of athletics have declared their readiness to increase giving," Barnett said. "We also will be looking at all other ways to increase revenues and reduce costs."

The report from McKinsey & Co. noted there were no easy options, but identified four as viable: remain in Division I-A and work to improve fund-raising and athletic performance, move to Division I-AA and drop football scholarships, transfer to Division I-AAA and end football altogether or switch to Division III and eliminate all athletic scholarships.

The report made no recommendation but dealt favorably with the I-AAA option.

By quitting football, McKinsey said Rice could cut $3.4 million from its annual shortfall. That also would allow Rice to improve its overall athletic grade-point average but would not "completely eliminate all of the tensions between athletics and academics at Rice," according to the report.

Barnett said the switch to Division I-AAA was considered but Rice couldn't find a suitable conference to join.

School President Malcolm Gillis noted that Rice athletic teams won titles last weekend in track, baseball and tennis. The Rice baseball team is the defending NCAA champion.

"When you think of the future of athletics, think of the past," he said. "Think of the immediate past."

"There will be a lot more efforts to attract more fans, merchandise tickets better, save money and work out deficiencies," Barnett said. "We will try to advance on all fronts but fund-raising and deficit reduction is a very significant part of it."

Rice's athletic graduation rate has been among the highest in the country and Bobby May, the Rice athletic director, has said the university should remain in Division I-A. However, the school's Faculty Council has been critical of Rice athletics financially and academically.

At Rice, the non-athlete GPA is 3.3, the McKinsey study found. Rice football players average 2.7, slightly less than the non-football athletes at 2.9.

Other "less attractive options" offered by the report include moving to Division II or Division III except in baseball, moving everything to Division II, switching to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or dropping formal athletics entirely.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press