Fifteen years after becoming a major program, UB dropped down to Division III. At a time when Texas schools dominated the SWC, California schools dominated the Pac-10 and the great State institutions of the Midwest and the South dominated the Big 10 and SEC respectively, The Empire State had no presence in college athletics.
In the 1980's television infused football schools with money and exposure. How did SUNY respond? With an 8-2 vote against allowing individual campuses to upgrade their Athletic Programs in 1984. In 1985, UB's 12th President, Steven Sample set his mind to getting Division 1 sports to Buffalo, "You cannot have a first-rate university without Division I" he said. Sample created an Intercollegiate Athletics Board that analyzed what it would take to get UB to Division I.
UB continued to lobby for the ability to award athletic scholarships, and in 1986, the ban was lifted. In response, UB English professor George Hochfield wrote: "We're All Playing Games: The Incompatibility of Athletic and Academic Excellence."
Despite faculty complaints that flew in the face of supply and demand economics ("alumni demand sports...then they are the wrong alumni and badly educated"), UB moved ahead with a five-year plan to get to Division I. In 1988 they moved to Division II and In 1991, UB moved to division I as a member of the East Coast Conference and played Division 1-AA football.
In 1991 Steven Sample moved on to USC where he would restore the glory of USC Athletics and leverage that success to create academic success. To honor the symbolic marriage of academics and athletics, Sample donated a statue of Traveler, one of the school's athletic mascots, which he felt served as a metaphor for the spirt and qualities of USC athletics and USC students.
UB was Division I, in name only and they were not at the highest level in football. The bulk of the job was left to UB's 13th University President, William Greiner. Greiner joined UB in 1967, which means he was at the university when football ended in the 70's. He was devoted to the University and was a great person to put in charge of leading Buffalo back to Division 1-A.
Under Greiner, UB opened UB Stadium, managed the World University Games, and enjoyed football success in 1996. Greiner then led the Bulls into D1-A football, and found a home for University Athletics at the highest level as a member of the MAC Conference. For his efforts, Greiner was inducted into the UB Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
Sample planted the seed, Greiner was the gardener who watered and cared for UB Athletics and made it possible for the basketball successes in the late 2000's and the football triumph in 2008. These two Presidents ran UB for twenty-two years, from 1982 to 2004. Alumni between 26 and 52 years old today probably were on campus during the tenure of one or both Presidents. The work they did, from developing North Campus, improving Research, lobbying with SUNY and with the push to compete at the highest level in Athletics has continued to shape our School, our Students, our Athletics and our Alumni.