Call it a casualty of the times: The University of New Orleans is leaving NCAA Division I athletics.
Citing financial constraints related to both the struggling economy and the region's slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina, the school will move to Division III, leaving the Sun Belt Conference, ESPN.com reports. The university suspended most of its athletics programs as it rebuilt after the hurricane, the report says. New Orleans got a waiver to stay in Division I despite the limited number of sports, but that has expired. A charter member of the Sun Belt Conference, the university held out hope when a donor left the school money in his will, but the cash wasn't enough to continue competing in Division I.
"It is unfortunate that UNO finds itself in financial constraints that have necessitated such drastic measures, but there is a time when tough decisions must be made," New Orleans Chancellor Tim Ryan said in a statement. "While we are proud of our past membership in the Sun Belt Conference, the university has to make changes that will allow NCAA-sanctioned athletics to continue at the Division III level."
New Orleans's departure leaves the Sun Belt with 12 members. Nine teams will compete in football, while men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball will keep the current divisional structure of the conference, only with six teams in each division.
"The last several years have been unquestionably difficult on the university and the athletics department," Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters says in the same statement. "The university's assessment that has led to its withdrawal from the Sun Belt Conference has assuredly also been another difficult chapter for UNO. UNO is our third-longest tenured member, and [it] will be sorely missed. The hard work put in by Chancellor Ryan and numerous other administrators on campus over the last several years of uncertainty is to be commended."
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