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For Have-Not Fullerton, Having Its Own Stadium Is Vital : College football: Titans' facility nears groundbreaking, as sport's rich get richer.

August 30, 1990|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After years of planning, millions of dollars and nearly as many prayer candles lit by Coach Gene Murphy, Cal State Fullerton's on-campus football stadium is finally scheduled to open in the fall of 1992.

But will the Titans live to enjoy the comforts of a home stadium for long? Or will the City of Fullerton wind up with the finest soccer facility in Orange County?

"I would hate to think that multipurpose stadium won't be used for football," Murphy said of the Titan Sports Complex, scheduled for construction beginning this fall. "But that's a possibility."

Fullerton has survived for years in Division I-A despite having no on-campus stadium, meager facilities, a tiny budget and minimal fan support. The Titans ranked 105th out of 106 Division I-A teams in home attendance last season. No. 106 was Cal State Long Beach.

But vast changes are sweeping college football, and it's doubtful that Fullerton will get swept along in them. More likely, the Titans will be swept aside, or, possibly, under the rug.

The forming of what athletic directors are calling "super conferences"--the aligning of major football-playing schools for television revenue purposes--could threaten the Big West Conference's Division I-A status.

Perennial Big West power Fresno State, the only conference school that annually fulfills the NCAA's Division I-A attendance requirements, would be attractive to a super conference. Other possibilities might include San Jose State, with its strong program and large television market, and Nevada Las Vegas with its strong basketball program. If those three schools leave, as some have speculated, the Big West could find itself scrambling for its Division I-A life.

Fullerton's Division I-A future could depend on its ability to align itself with other Division I-A teams that don't become part of the super conference structure.

And much of its football future could depend on the financial and spectator impact of the sports complex and the mood of the school's faculty, which has questioned the viability of the football program.

"Nobody has a crystal ball and there's uncertainty as to what's going to happen nationally," said Ed Carroll, Fullerton's athletic director. "I'm optimistic that these changes will work to our benefit, but that remains to be seen."

Notre Dame negotiated its own TV deal with NBC, Penn State is joining the Big Ten Conference, Arkansas is leaving the Southwest Conference for the Southeast Conference, Texas and Texas A&M pondered joining the Pac-Ten, and many believe Fresno State, and possibly San Jose State and UNLV, will look for greener pastures.

Many athletic directors doubt that the College Football Assn., a consortium of 64 major football-playing schools whose primary purpose is to negotiate television contracts, will exist beyond its present contract, which expires in 1995. Instead, super conferences will strike their own TV deals.

"Anyone who isn't in the upper echelon of our conference from the standpoint of TV attractability and home attendance is a little nervous about what's happening across the country," said Jim Haney, Big West Commissioner.

The upper echelon of Big West football consists of one team, Fresno State.

In order to remain a Division I-A conference, the NCAA states that 60% of the conference's schools (five in the Big West) must either:

--Have a 30,000-seat stadium and average 17,000 fans at home.

--Average 20,000 fans for all games.

--Meet these criteria once every four seasons.

If you take Fresno State, which ranked 56th among Division I-A schools in home attendance with a 34,100 average in 1989, out of the Big West the conference might have trouble meeting the criteria.

"The problem for schools like Fullerton and Long Beach is they're not meeting Division I-A criteria on their own, so they're dependent on the conference," Haney said. "Other than Fresno, everyone in our conference is experiencing hard times."

In the NCAA home-attendance rankings, Big West conference schools hold down the last four of 106 spots: Cal State Long Beach (2,650), Fullerton (3,741), University of the Pacific (5,540) and San Jose State (8,118).

New Mexico State ranked 100th with an average of 11,304, Utah State was 94th at 15,553 and Nevada Las Vegas was 92nd at 17,100.

Some have questioned whether Fullerton's place is in Division I-A football. The Titans certainly aren't a model I-A program.

Some say Fullerton should discontinue the sport because of bottom-of-the-barrel home attendance figures and the high cost of the program compared to its minimal revenue.

"Football has cost us millions of dollars that could have been used in academic programs," said Dr. Robert Feldman, a Fullerton professor and member of the Academic Senate.

Some also criticize a scheduling philosophy that has Fullerton playing road games it has virtually no chance of winning--Murphy calls them "body-bag games"--in exchange for large guarantee checks that help sustain the program.

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