- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Despite protests from athletes and objections from coaches, American University President Benjamin Ladner said yesterday his school will leave the Colonial Athletic Association and seek admittance to the Patriot League.

If approved by the Patriot League, considered a formality, the move will take effect in the 2001-02 school year.

The decision ends more than a month of contentious debate in which athletes marched on campus to protest the move and several said they would consider transferring if it were carried through.

Athletes said they did not want to play in a less competitive league. Coaches from sports other than men's and women's basketball also expressed reservations over the move, which was generally seen as an attempt by Ladner to save money.

In a statement released by the university, Ladner conceded a financial motivation and said the decision was not "strictly an athletics one."

"This decision has been made with the broad interests of the entire university in mind," Ladner said. "It has significant and positive ramifications not only for our athletes, but also for our other students, the alumni, our academic standing and funding process."

Patriot League schools award scholarships only in basketball, while the CAA allows its members to offer scholarships in all varsity sports. In an effort to lure American, Patriot League officials have said AU can keep offering scholarships in sports other than basketball.

But some who voiced objections said they expect AU to reduce coaching staffs and scholarships once the move is made.

The Patriot League recruited American because it needs an eighth member to keep its automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. The league is comprised of Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh and Navy.

The Colonial will drop to eight members George Mason, James Madison, Richmond, North Carolina-Wilmington, Virginia Commonwealth, William & Mary, Old Dominion and East Carolina. However, East Carolina is leaving for Conference USA in 2001-02.

Ladner said the move would align American with a cluster of mainly private schools in an area from which AU draws a large portion of its students. About 30 percent of AU's enrollment comes from the Patriot League's area, compared to 5 percent from the CAA region, the statement said.

If there are not widespread transfers, the switch should give American a better chance at a winning record in men's basketball for the first time since 1990-91. The school recently fired coach Art Perry and replaced him with former Virginia coach Jeff Jones.

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