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Matadors Officially Join American West : CSUN: Cal State Sacramento, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Southern Utah also are charter members of new conference.


Six months after a committee of outsiders persuaded Cal State Northridge President Blenda J. Wilson to retain football and keep other athletic programs at the Division I level, the school on Thursday officially became a charter member of the NCAA's newest conference, the American West.

Cal State Sacramento, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Southern Utah also joined the league, which will play Division I-AA football beginning in September. At the start of the 1994-95 school year, it will field men's and women's basketball, cross-country and track and field, along with women's tennis and volleyball.

With the exception of football, the number of athletic scholarships offered by conference schools will match the NCAA maximum. As part of a conference-wide agreement to contain costs, members may offer no more than 20 full football scholarships by 1996.

"I'm happy they set limits," Northridge football Coach Bob Burt said. "It is more realistic for our program and more realistic for us to be competitive."

Northridge's funding allows only 15 1/2 full football scholarships for the 1993 season. Burt said he hopes his program can be upgraded to 20.

Until the conference attracts new members, the majority of games will be played against nonconference opponents, leaving Northridge at a continuing disadvantage.

Division I-A programs such as San Diego State, the Matadors' first opponent, are allowed 90 scholarships. Division I-AA schools may offer up to 65 and Division II programs are allowed 40.

The American West was formed in response to 1991 NCAA legislation mandating that all an institution's athletic teams compete at the same NCAA level.

Northridge, Sacramento and Southern Utah have been playing at the Division I level in all sports except football. Cal Poly will join Division I in 1994-95.

Matador Athletic Director Bob Hiegert, whose program moved from Division II to Division I in 1990, played a key role in forming the conference.

"The choices, if you were moving from Division II to Division I, were either Pac-10, Big West, West Coast Conference or Western Athletic Conference affiliation, and that has been very difficult to crack because most of those conferences are reasonably set with their numbers," Hiegert said in a statement.

"The new conference gives programs expecting or hoping to move to Division I an avenue of opportunity for league competition. It also is an alternative conference for current members of the Big Sky, Big West, West Coast Conference and WAC. I think that is exciting and a logical step."

The Northridge baseball, softball, men's soccer, men's volleyball, and women's volleyball programs will remain in their current competitive configurations until the American West expands to a minimum of six schools in each of those sports.

Northridge baseball and softball play in the WAC, soccer and men's volleyball in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Women's volleyball is independent.

The American West will not be eligible for an automatic berth in the NCAA basketball tournament until it fields six teams for eight years.

Still, the conference will sponsor a championship that Northridge basketball Coach Pete Cassidy believes will motivate his players and enhance recruiting and scheduling.

Already, the home schedule is improving. Air Force Academy is playing at Northridge in 1994-95, and Cassidy is negotiating to try to bring Notre Dame to Northridge in two years when the Fighting Irish play at UCLA.

CSUN Notes

Dr. Warren J. Baker, Cal Poly SLO president, will serve as the American West's first president. Former Western Football Conference Commissioner Vic Buccola is the first commissioner. . . . The conference logo, depicting the sea, the sun and the mountains, was also unveiled. "It represents the member institutions, the mountains of southern Utah, the oceans of California and the sun beaconing down on the West," said Sam Lagana, the Northridge promotions and marketing director who designed the logo.

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