October 16, 2003 11:00 pm

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

Presidents of several Northwest Conference schools will meet Oct. 29 in Portland to discuss Eastern Oregon's request to join the NCAA Division III conference.

A formal decision is not expected, according to conference officials, but Eastern Oregon is eager to have the matter resolved as soon as possible.

Eastern Oregon is currently a dual affiliate, competing athletically in both NCAA Division III and NAIA levels.

There are many differences between the two affiliations. The allowance of athletic scholarships by the NAIA and the prohibition of these scholarships among Division III schools is one of the major differences. Eastern does not give out athletic scholarships because of the Division III affiliation.

This summer, Eastern Oregon sent a letter to the Northwest Conference requesting to be admitted. The Northwest Conference exclusively consists of private schools — George Fox, Lewis & Clark of Portland, Linfield, Pacific, Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound, Whitman, Whitworth and Willamette.

A conference constitution stipulating that the NWC comprise only private schools would have to be changed if EOU is to be admitted.

Eastern is currently a member of the NAIA Cascade Collegiate Conference, which has a conference championship for men and women's basketball, volleyball and other sports. However, there is no CCC football conference, so Eastern plays as a Division III independent. Also, the other NAIA schools in the conference offer athletic scholarships, so Eastern is sometimes at a competitive disadvantage with these schools.

The athletic directors of the Northwest Conference schools have already discussed the idea and will be forwarding a report to the presidents of the various schools, who are meeting Oct. 29.

On the agenda at that meeting is Eastern Oregon's request to join.

EOU Athletic Director Rob Cashell said the school is "hoping" that a decision comes out of this meeting. Cashell said if the NWC accepted Eastern, "we would probably drop our NAIA affiliation."

EOU would then be primarily competing against other schools that do not offer athletic scholarships.

Vivian Bull, president of Linfield College, does not expect a formal decision at the meeting. "This has been a topic for consideration in the past. It's specifically on the (Oct. 29) agenda for discussion," she said. "It (a decision) usually doesn't work that quickly."

Bull said the presidents will review input from the athletic directors and the academic representatives of each of the NWC schools.