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Commentary: The shifting college sports landscape has Laurel ties

College SportsCollege FootballMaryland TerrapinsTowson UniversityBig TenRyerson Incorporated

The month of November was an earthquake on the college sports landscape in Maryland.

The big eruption, of course, came out of College Park on Nov. 19 when the flagship university announced that it was leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference – of which it was a charter member in 1953 – to chart a new course in the Big Ten Conference starting in less than two years.

This move was about three things: money, football and … money. At least university officials admitted that securing a financial future was at the heart of the move. It is hard to believe the move was made for the benefit of student-athletes in "non-revenue" sports who will have to get on a plane for road trips to Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois instead of taking a bus to North Carolina and Virginia for ACC games.

Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, a North Laurel resident, grew up in Big Ten country – Iowa – and was an assistant coach at Iowa State, a member of the Big 12. She was the AP National Coach of the Year in 2002 at Minnesota, another Big Ten school, before coming to Maryland later that year. Frese married Mark Thomas, a former Laurel High football player, in 2005 and the next year she led the Terps to the NCAA title. In less than two years her team will be competing for Big Ten honors, not in the ACC.

"I'm excited, it's a conference I'm very familiar with, a conference I grew up with. Any time you have change, it's an opportunity to grow and improve. From our end, we're excited to take our Maryland brand to the Big Ten. From our (perspective), it's not going to change in terms of who we recruit," Frese told http://www.swishappeal.com.

On a much smaller scale in terms of media attention, but no less vital to those involved, the month of November also saw minor tremors at the athletic departments at Towson University and at Mount St. Mary's in Frederick County. Towson officials, the same day Maryland announced its move to the Big Ten, released a statement that no decision on the future of the men's soccer and baseball team would be made until the first of the year. Earlier this fall Towson athletic director Mike Waddell proposed that the Division I program eliminate the two sports in a cost-cutting move.

The uncertain future at Towson over men's soccer has an impact on Laurel High graduate Sammy Bangura, a goalie who was a redshirt this past fall for the Tigers. Bangura was listed as a junior on the school website and his coach, Frank Olszewski, said he has at least one more year of eligibility at the college level. Whether or not he gets to use that year at Towson is another story.

Anthony Okodua, who lists his hometown as Laurel but went to high school in Africa, was a senior striker last season at Towson and his college eligibility is done.

Olszewski, the Towson coach since 1982, told me that recruiting, obviously, is very challenging right now. "I have to be upfront and honest," he said. "There are (high school) kids that are contacting me and I have to be honest" about the tenuous future of the sport at the suburban Baltimore campus.

Men's soccer is also in jeopardy at the Mount after the school announced Nov. 12 it planned to cut that sport, along with men's and women's golf, after this academic year.

The head coach for men's soccer at the Mount is Oakland Mills High grad Rob Ryerson, who spent part of his youth in Laurel, played indoor pro soccer and as a member of the U.S. national team and was inducted into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.

"They were all devastated when they heard the news," Ryerson, in a phone interview, said of his players. "It was a surprise to all of us." Ryerson said he has been in touch with parents and alumni, who are trying to raise money by Jan. 1 to keep the program alive. "What I have heard is $250,000," he said.

Ryerson noted that the University of Richmond also plans to cut men's soccer. "It is an incredibly disturbing issue," he said.

Should there be a concern for men's soccer at smaller Division I schools, where football is played at the same time of year? "Yeah, sure," Olszewski said. "It is a concern for men's soccer. I am hoping that our situation can turn around."

So in light of Title IX, which guarantees gender equity for women's sports, can men's soccer and football co-exist at mid-major schools such as Towson?

"I think they can. You just have to be creative. They have existed (together) for years," Olszewski said. But tradition means nothing in the changing sports landscape — as fans and alumni of the Terps of Maryland just found out.

David Driver is the former sports editor of the Laurel Leader.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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College SportsCollege FootballMaryland TerrapinsTowson UniversityBig TenRyerson Incorporated
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