WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Winston-Salem State's financial problems are one reason the Rams are playing for the Division II national championship this weekend.
The historically black university was on track to move to Division I when budget woes forced officials to abort the plan to join the Football Championship Subdivision a few years ago.
So, the Rams returned to Division II and made themselves right at home.
In their third season back at this level, they're 14-0 and preparing to face Valdosta State on Saturday in Florence, Ala., with their first national title at stake.
"I don't know if it justifies (the decision), but I know winning solves a lot of problems, and people like winners," third-year coach Connell Maynor said. "If you win, that will make the people that wanted us to stay I-AA kind of forget about that and say, 'You know what, this is all right. This is pretty cool.'"
The move back down a rung on the NCAA's ladder sure seems to have agreed with Winston-Salem State.
The alma mater of former NFL players Yancey Thigpen and Oronde Gadsden has twice won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association — the nation's oldest conference for HBCUs — since rejoining the league in 2010.
That came shortly after school officials decided the transition to Division I — and the expenses that came with it — just wasn't worth it. All those road trips to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games in Florida and Virginia began to add up, and so did the increased expenses for scholarships to meet Division I standards.
School officials said that the athletic department ran a deficit of $1.8 million during the fiscal year before the move back to Division II. Chancellor Donald Reaves said at the time projected the deficit would grow to $15 million by this year.
For the fiscal year that ended in June 2012, the Rams had a balanced athletic budget of about $4.4 million — making them one of the bigger spenders in the CIAA.
"The biggest problem with that is money — you've got to fund 15-16 sports ... (and) those sports are traveling to FAMU, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State on a Wednesday night to play volleyball, that takes a lot of money," Maynor said. "It takes a lot of funding. We've got some people out there that want to fund the money, I think it wouldn't be a problem to go back to I-AA. But everybody that wants to go back don't have (the) money."