The NCAA Council voted unanimously today to recommend attendance and scholarship requirements for the 88 colleges and universities in Division I that do not play Division I football.
The Washington-area school most likely to be affected is George Mason University, which probably will be dropped to Division II unless its league, the ECAC South, is restructured.
A Georgetown University official says his school meets the new criteria and is in no danger of losing Division I classification.
But the status of American and George Washington universities remained uncertain.
In today's action, the council, planning the restructuring of Division I athletics, recommended the following criteria for the 88 basketball-oriented schools to keep Division I status:
* Paid average attendance of 3,500 at home basketball games or total (home and away) annual attendance of 110,000 for the last four seasons.
* A program including at least eight varsity sports for men, with scholarships (grants-in-aid) totaling at least half of the 85 scholarships allowed by the NCAA, or an equivalent grants-in-aid cash outlay.
The council also approved a "bootstrap proposal" permitting colleges and universities who do not meet the criteria to keep their Division I status if at least six members and 80 percent of teams in their conference qualify for Division I.
That apparently means there would be one exception per conference except for 10-member leagues, which would have two exceptions. But there was some confusion tonight whether the council intended to grant only one exception per conference, regardless of size. The proposed legislation will not be published in final form until next week.
This proposal was offered by John Toner, a member of the council and athletic director at the University of Connecticut. Officials of the approximately 40 colleges and universities that apparently do not meet the new criteria had been hoping for a more liberal exception rule.
Among the schools that apparently do not meet the proposed criteria are De Paul and Alabama-Birmingham. The largest impact of the proposed legislation would be in the East, although members of such leagues as the Midwestern City Conference, the Trans America Conference and the Sun Belt Conference also would be affected.
Today's council action will be voted on by Division I colleges and universities at the NCAA convention at San Diego in January. If approved by majority vote, it will become NCAA law in 1984. The NCAA has 277 Division I members and indications are that the legislation will be approved.
The major hope of the colleges and universities likely to be affected by the legislation is that they can muster enough support in Division II and III to force the issue to a vote by the entire NCAA membership.
Today's action is the latest chapter in a struggle for control of big-time college athletics, centering around the NCAA, the major football schools and multimillion dollar television contracts. Previous reorganization attempts that would have brought the 70-80 major football schools a larger share of revenues have been voted down, with the basketball-oriented Division I colleges and universities joining with Division II and III members to defeat the proposed legislation.
The NCAA council, which consists of 20 members plus NCAA officers, says the reason for this proposed legislations is to assure that Division I members are similarly committed to a broad-based athletic philosophy. If that was the case, argue the opponents, the legislation would require a college or university to grant half the maximum scholarships in each sport.
As it stands now, by granting the maximum number of scholarships in basketball (15), track and field (14), and soccer (11), a college or university without Division I football would qualify by giving 2.5 scholarships in its other five sports.
Locally, George Mason would have qualified if the exception had been at least six schools or 80 percent of league membership, instead of both. George Mason is the only university in the six-team ECAC South that does not play Division I football. The other members are East Carolina, James Madison, Navy, Richmond, and William and Mary.
"Unless we get some kind of amendment, I don't know what we're going to do," said Jack Kvancz, Mason's athletic director. "The proposed resolution really hurts and it hurts us more than anyone else because we're on the move.
"Attendance is the factor. We've only been Division I for three years. We're planning to open a 10,000-seat arena for 1984 or 1985. We have the money for it . . . We get caught in a bind."
A possible solution for George Mason, according to Kvancz, would be Virginia Military Institute, currently a member of the Southern Conference, switching to the ECAC South. That would give the league six teams and 80 percent of membership qualifying.
Georgetown, originally thought to be in jeopardy, meets the NCAA's proposed criteria, Athletic Director Frank Rienzo said today. He said Georgetown has met the scholarship requirement for several years. Georgetown is one of many Eastern schools that have given up major college football because of economics. The Hoyas were runners-up for the NCAA basketball championship last season.
At George Washington, Chip Zimmer, the acting athletic director, said he believed the Colonials would qualify under the exception clause, but wasn't positive. Six members of its league, the Atlantic 10 Conference, play Division I football, The other members are St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's and Duquesne. Zimmer said he did not know for sure whether two of those three schools met the proposed requirements, thus giving the Atlantic 10 eight members and 80 percent of its membership qualifying.
According to sources, GW meets the scholarship requirement, but falls short in attendance. The Colonials' average home basketball attendance has been approximately 2,800-3,400 and its total attendance 92,000-97,000 the last four years.
American University, which has played in the National Invitation Tournament the last two years, plays its home games at 3,000-seat Ft. Myer Arena, so it is impossible for the Eagles to average 3,500 home attendance. Five of the other nine members of its league, the East Coast Conference, do not play Division I football. Those schools are Drexel, Hofstra, La Salle, Rider and Towson State. It is not known which of those schools meet the proposed NCAA requirements, if any.
Bob Frailey, American's athletic director, also is president of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, an umbrella organization of eastern universities and colleges, including 59 in Division I. His group is expected to lobby most vigorously to defeat the proposed legislation.
Staff writer Mark Asher contributed to this article in Washington.