AKRON, Ohio — It is the fall of 1991, and the opening week of the college football season will include what has come to be known as the Buckeye rivalry--Ohio State vs. Akron.
Sounds farfetched? Perhaps, but the University of Akron's athletic department has big plans and high hopes for its gridiron future.
Though the trend in collegiate football is to downgrade operations by cutting budgets and moving to conferences where the overall competition is less fierce, Akron is heading in the other direction.
"We'd like to reach the point where Ohio State will want to play us," says Akron head Coach Gerry Faust. "A dream? Of course it is, for now. But the future may well make it reality."
Akron plans to upgrade its football program from the Division 1-AA competition of the Ohio Valley Conference to 1-A by 1987, a move that school officials say is unprecedented.
That means the Zips will move from playing Salem and Slippery Rock to the likes of Ohio State and Boston College, probably as an independent school.
Akron formally cemented its commitment to the change last December by hiring former Notre Dame coach Faust.
Akron President William V. Muse believes the risk is worth the effort.
"By our estimations, we have about 35,000 alumni residing in the Akron area," he said. "You need strong support from alumni to have big-time football.
"Moreover, the presence of an upgraded program will help give the school national recognition that will promote our excellent scholastic offerings. You can major in almost 250 subjects here, and we're proud of that.
"There's significant risk involved. Gerry knows it, the trustees know it and I know it. But we're all willing to try."
Faust said he has told Muse and athletic director Dave Adams that it will take five years to make Akron competitive.
"I'd say there's a really good chance we'll succeed," said the 51-year-old native of Dayton, Ohio. "Why? Well, they're talking about building a dome, they've got a great location here, the alumni are interested and the players are calling me.
"That's why I came. People have been great to us."
Faust, who is building a home in the nearby township of Bath, added that the university still has to provide more tangible signs of its commitment.
"There are so many things that have to be done in terms of practice facilities and improved equipment," he said. "I tend to take a wait-and-see attitude about it all.
"We have to have these facilities if we're going to be able to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan. There's always room for improvement."
Faust says he has had good initial success in recruiting.
"The kids who come in are impressed," he said. "We've offered 21 scholarships to incoming freshmen and 18 have committed. That's phenomenal."
Faust said the scholaships will be increased from 70 to "hopefully about 95" next year.
His coaching staff is paid a total of $415,000--Faust's base salary is $70,000 but the actual value of his contract with perks is well into six figures--as opposed to the $199,575 paid last year to Jim Dennison and his staff."
The school's athletic budget currently is $2,007,000 but Muse says a rise to as much as $2.78 million in 1986-87 "which would keep us within what I feel should be a limit of 2% of the University's general budget, and that would be acceptable."