Howard University, which has won 14 of its last 15 games but is stuck at No. 20 in the NCAA Division I-AA poll because of a weak schedule, is trying to upgrade next season's schedule and would like to play Grambling at Yankee Stadium.
Athletic Director William Moultrie said he will do what is necessary to enable the team to quit being a playoff wallflower.
The Bison, 8-1 this season entering Saturday's game in Baltimore against Morgan State, are tied for 20th in the I-AA poll for the third straight week. Howard broke into the rankings three weeks ago with five points in the poll. The next Saturday, it defeated Division II Virginia State, 43-3, but received only four points in the ensuing poll. Last weekend, it defeated Division II Morehouse College, 54-7, and its support slipped to three points.
The Bison will close their regular season Nov. 21 against No. 7 Delaware State in a game that will decide the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. Even if they win the game in Dover, they will face the possibility of not being invited to the 16-team I-AA postseason tournament.
The four-man committee that votes in the poll and allocates the playoff bids bases its skepticism on the three Division II colleges and one NAIA school on the Bison's 10-game schedule. Moultrie and Coach Willie Jeffries said Howard must take immediate steps to avoid such a problem.
"One of the unfortunate things when you get an invitation to a party with a list of criteria is that you have to decide if you want to go in the first place," Moultrie said. "We have decided we want to go to the party, so we are doing something about it."
He said he hopes to finalize within 30 days an 11-game schedule for next year with at least nine I-AA opponents. Next year's MEAC schedule increases to six games when Florida A&M rejoins the conference and Howard also will play I-AA Towson State in a nonleague game. Moultrie said he has been asked by Akron, coached by former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust, Illinois State and Grambling about scheduling games next year, and has also been in contact with Jackson State and Southern University.
For almost two decades, Grambling has played an annual game in Yankee Stadium sponsored by the Urban League. Moultrie said he talked to Grambling's athletic director and legendary coach, Eddie Robinson, last year about Grambling scheduling Howard as this year's opponent, but a contract had already been signed. Moultrie said indications were good that Howard could be the 1988 opponent.
Walter Reed, director of athletics at Jackson State, is the I-AA committee's southern region representative. Representatives rank the teams in their areas; a Monday morning conference call matches all four regions to come up with a national ranking. This week, Reed rated Appalachian State, Jackson State, Delaware State, Georgia Southern and Marshall (6-4) ahead of Howard in the south.
"I have been in coaching a long time and I know we are a good team," said Jeffries, whose South Carolina State team finished fourth in the country in 1976. "I guess just Dr. Reed doesn't know it. We would like to play any of those five teams he has ranked ahead of us and I don't think we would have a problem with any of them.
"I think Dr. Reed is just looking at us as the old traditional Howard and doesn't want to put us up there."
Reed's only comment is that strength of schedule is important.
"Howard is still in the hunt for a playoff bid," said Western Region committee representative Benny Hollis of Northeastern Louisiana, refusing to say the Bison would deserve a bid if they defeat Delaware State. "I just think the committee is concerned with Howard's schedule. Any time you have more than one team below Division I-AA on your schedule, you are in trouble."