Jan. 20, 2010


NEW ORLEANS (AP) -The University of New Orleans will end its affiliation with the Sun Belt Conference on July 1, part of a move from NCAA Division I to Division III.

Conference officials said Wednesday they would waive the early withdrawal fees.

UNO chancellor Tim Ryan said that the university wanted to remain but state budget cuts and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina "have created a situation in which Division I athletics was simply untenable."

UNO, a founding member of the conference in 1976, moved in 1981 to the American South Conference, which merged with the Sun Belt in 1991.

"In order to save an athletic program at UNO, the University will be moving to Division III, and the Sun Belt Conference and its officials have been understanding of the unique situation UNO is in and supportive of our efforts to save athletics at UNO," Ryan said.

The league said it will keep its headquarters in New Orleans, where they have been located for nearly 20 years. The city remains close to the geographic center of member schools.

"The Sun Belt Conference office has been located in New Orleans for nearly 20 years and it is anticipated that league will remain headquartered here for the foreseeable future," said Commissioner Wright Waters. "New Orleans provides an excellent meeting place for our league members because of its geography, hotel availability and meeting space."

The New Orleans Bowl, run by the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, won't be affected, Sun Belt spokesman John McElwain said.

"We just re-upped with them this football season, so our future's pretty clear there," he said - a Sun Belt team will play in the New Orleans Bowl through 2013.

Ryan has said that declining sports attendance, shrinking revenue since Hurricane Katrina and ever-rising costs in Division I were among reasons to move. UNO had 17,000 students before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but its fall 2009 enrollment was 11,800. It is $3 million a year short of Division I costs, Ryan has said.

Division III teams have no athletic scholarships and can field part-time coaches.

UNO has never had a Division I football team, and the remaining 12 Sun Belt members include nine in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The school had a club football team from 1965 until 1971 and revived club football in 2008. Ryan said in November, when he announced the possibility of moving to Division III, that the switch would let the club football and soccer teams compete as NCAA sports.

The LSU Board of Supervisors gave UNO permission in December to notify the Sun Belt Conference of its plans to withdraw.

The board or its executive committee would also have to approve a move to Division III. That decision will be made by May.