The University of New Orleans (UNO) has announced it is considering dropping from NCAA Division I to Division III due to financial constraints. The UNO athletic department received significant budget cuts in the current fiscal year, and a student referendum to increase student fees to support the athletic department failed in spring 2009. According to a report in NewOrleans.com, other efforts, including private fundraising and support from the Wick Cary estate, are seemingly not enough to support the athletics costs to remain at Division I status.
“We had to reduce funding for athletics in the previous round of budget cuts and since then the financial picture of the University and the athletics program has not improved,” said Chancellor Tim Ryan. In addition, the Governor has suggested that future budget reductions for higher education are likely. Sports Illustrated reported that UNO’s biggest reason to consider dropping two divisions is that enrollment plummeted from 17,000 before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, cutting more than $1 million a year from the student fees collected for the Athletic Department. In May, UNO students rejected a proposal to double their athletic fees to nearly $200 a year. The increase was proposed to make up for a department deficit running $600,000 a year even before state budget cuts sliced off nearly $1 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Moving to down to Division III would allow UNO’s club football and soccer teams to move to NCAA Division III as well. NCAA requirements for Division III are six sports per gender, and the institution believes the lower costs will allow it to easily field the required number of sports if not more. Applications for Division III are due to the NCAA by May 15, 2010 to start the transformation process in the fall of 2010. According to SI.com, the process would take about four years, but travel expenses and Sun Belt Conference fees could drop immediately.