Howard University's efforts to gain a berth in this year's NCAA Division I-AA football playoffs appear stymied after the NCAA yesterday rejected a proposal by Howard that would have added the Bison and three other teams into second-round games this week.
"The original selection of the 16 teams was made in accord with applicable NCAA legislation and was determined on a fair and impartial basis," Indiana State Athletic Director Bernard (Beanie) Cooper, chairman of the Division I-AA football subcommittee, said in a statement released by NCAA headquarters in Mission, Kan.
"Therefore, we find it inappropriate and unwise to modify the format which was established over one year ago," Cooper said. ". . . We do not believe such a format is feasible or safe for student-athletes since it would potentially require participation in three football games within an 11-day period."
Daniel Bernstine, acting vice president and general counsel at Howard, said the university would pursue its $27 million damage suit and might make another maneuver to get into the tournament, which has quarterfinal games scheduled for Saturday.
"None of the reasons given is compelling," said Bernstine. "From a legal perspective, the matter is not over, but we will meet with university officials Tuesday and deal with the next step. If we are going to do something, we will have to do it quickly so we do not run into the same time frame problem we had last week."
Howard officials, who were not optimistic that their proposal to modify the playoff format would be accepted, offered it after a federal judge Friday declined to grant a temporary restraining order to stop first-round games from proceeding the next day if Howard were not included in the field.
Howard filed suit after it finished with a 9-1 record, but was bypassed by the NCAA tournament committee, which selected 16 teams with inferior records to the Bison. The committee cited Howard's weak schedule for its action.
Shortly after the NCAA released its statement yesterday afternoon, Howard players turned in their equipment to the athletic deparment.
"When they take up all your equipment, that is really the end of the season," said sophomore wide receiver Derrick Faison. "Three games in 11 days would have put a lot of pressure on the teams, but we would have gladly taken it because we were treated unfairly in the first place."
Bernstine said Howard officials and attorneys would evaluate their position and decide "how to proceed with the litigation."
Howard's suit alleged antitrust violations and breach of contract. University President James Cheek said he initiated the lawsuit because the school has become the latest victim in "a historic pattern of racial discrimination."
NCAA officials have denied that racism played a part in the selection process.
The NCAA's Cooper cited two other reasons for the committee's decision to reject the Howard proposal: a conflict with class attendance and examination schedules and a financial hardship being placed on the quarterfinalists, who "have already committed to transportation, housing and other arrangements."
Under Howard's plan, the Bison and the three next highest-rated teams would enter the second round of the tournament this week. The four highest-rated teams would receive byes into the revised quarterfinals, and Howard and the other three new teams would play the four remaining teams.
The new second-round games would have been played Thursday, with the quarterfinals Dec. 10 and the semifinals Dec. 14. The championship game, which is to be televised by ESPN, would have remained on Dec. 19.