Centenary Dropping from D-I to D-III

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A white and green Boston Celtics jersey of former NBA great Robert Parish hangs on the wall of Centenary's basketball office, a reminder of the proud sports history at the small private school in Shreveport, La.

The men's golf tournament Centenary hosts every spring is named for another distinguished alumnus, longtime pro golfer Hal Sutton.

Centenary's Ladies and Gents teams are by no means perennial powerhouses, but they do field elite athletes every now and then, and represent the only NCAA Division I sports program within an hour of north Louisiana's largest city.

That is slated to change now that Centenary's board of trustees have voted to seek Division III status by the 2011-12 academic year, and the sports program's boosters are not pleased.

"It's fair to say everyone is very disappointed, and in the long term this will hurt the school, the athletes, the coaches and the community," said Shreveport attorney Bobby Gilliam, who serves as president of the C-Club, the fundraising arm of Centenary sports.

Centenary interim president Michael Easton banned coaches and athletic staff from speaking publicly about the board's 31-18 vote to reclassify the sports program.

Head basketball coach Greg Gary would say only that the seven new players he has recruited told him they intend to play for him at least through next season.

"We're going to try to make the most out of our situation," Gary, who has only been at Centenary one season, said on Wednesday, the day after the vote was taken. "I'm looking forward to coaching a great bunch of guys who've been loyal to me and each other, and have great character and a great work ethic."

It was the latest blow to a basketball program already banned by the NCAA from postseason play next season because of low Academic
Progress Rate (APR) scores. In conjunction with the NCAA penalty,
the Summit League banned Centenary from its season-ending conference basketball tournament, the winner of which gets a berth to the NCAA tournament.

Centenary still plans to remain a Summit League member through the next two seasons.

Centenary basketball player Daman Starring, speaking by phone from his home in Las Vegas, said he and teammates were disappointed by the vote, but hoped to use it as motivation.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to stay with coach Gary and my teammates as long as I can," said Starring, who was granted a medical redshirt after rupturing his spleen in the fourth game of last season, meaning he has four years of eligibility left.

"Coach is stuck in a hard situation," Starring continued. "But, like I said, we've got these next couple years left, so we can do everything for him and ourselves. If we go out and play great, play hard for each other and coach Gary, it can put pressure on (the board) to have to change their decisions."

After the vote, acting board chairman Ed Crawford released a statement Tuesday night that a Division III sports program is typical among schools of Centenary's size and "more in keeping with their focus on academics and the student athlete."

Centenary, which was founded back in 1825 and had an enrollment of about 840 undergraduate students in 2008-09, has been looking for ways to save money during the recent national economic downturn. Its endowment is down 20 percent and the school is looking to reduce its budget by $1.5 million. Some officials and trustees saw a proposed change to Division III, which would eliminate athletic scholarships and reduce athletic department expenses, as a good way to save money.

But Gilliam said financial concerns should not have entered into the debate over dropping from Division I because the C-Club had pledged $2 million annually to pay the athletic department's operating costs for at least the next two years.

Gilliam who did not attend Centenary himself, but became a fan when his son played baseball for the Gents, argued that Division I sports gave the school "community support it wouldn't otherwise get, and it's happened here in Shreveport for many years."

Now, Gilliam said he and fellow boosters could be inclined to disassociate themselves from the school if the transition to Division III takes place as planned.

"It's fair to say I will have to totally re-evaluate," Gilliam said. "I am interested in helping coaches and student athletes, but we all have to re-evaluate where we are at this point."