Legislation to transfer the University of New Orleans out of the LSU System continued to move toward final legislative approval Tuesday.
But progressing with the bill is a Senate resolution requesting the suspension of UNO’s planned step down from Division I to the lower-tier Division II athletics classification.
Critics of the LSU System’s treatment of UNO often have cited the push to move UNO out of Division I, where some LSU and UNO officials have said the university cannot afford to remain.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 68, sponsored by state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, urges the suspension of the reclassification process until an independent review can take place.
The House Education Committee on Tuesday approved without objection both SCR68 and Appel’s Senate Bill 266, which provides for the UNO transfer into the University of Louisiana System. Supporters argue UNO is more similar to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana University.
Although he did not oppose the resolution, state Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, said it takes “courage and leadership” to step down in athletics in order to avoid having state funds subsidize athletics.
In April, the NCAA approved UNO’s transfer into Division II athletics. But the move over is not expected to be completed until 2012.
LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe said it would be up to the UL System to address the NCAA issues if the transfer is approved.
UNO’s current Division II plans include joining the Gulf South Conference, which includes schools like Christian Brothers, Delta State and Valdosta State.
The decision was a twist on the previous controversial decision to drop UNO from the top-level Division I athletics to Division III, which has no scholarships. UNO Athletic Director Amy Champion argued in March that the university can operate a financially self-sustaining athletics program in Division II.
UNO competed at the Division II level from the start of its athletic program in 1969 until 1975, when it moved up to Division I. UNO was named LSU at New Orleans, or LSUNO, until 1974.
As for the UNO transfer out of the LSU System, SB266 is now moving toward final House approval, which also will require Senate concurrence on minor amendments.
The state Senate approved the move on a 35-0 vote last week, after legislators’ concerns about the costs of the transfer were largely alleviated.
The state Senate Education Committee last week also approved without objection House Bill 537, which is the nearly identical House version of the UNO transfer by House Speaker Jim Tucker, who is a UNO graduate.
The UNO transfer developed this legislative session as a Louisiana House compromise after a proposed merger of UNO and Southern University at New Orleans was dropped for lack of support.