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Towson athletic department recommends cutting baseball and men's soccer

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Despite receiving its biggest single payday in the history of the athletic program last week, Towson University  might not be able to avoid the financial reality that has affected many larger schools in recent years.

Three days after taking home a check for $510,000 from its nationally televised football game at LSU on Saturday, Towson announced Tuesday that it is recommending cutting the school’s baseball and men’s soccer as part of the athletic program’s reorganization.

Third-year athletic director Mike Waddell said in an interview that he began meeting with the coaches and athletes of the teams involved around 8 a.m. Tuesday and continued to meet with staff members and athletes who had morning class later in the day.

Waddell said the athletic department has been studying possible changes for about 18 months but kept coming to the same answer.

“Through the process, we found the program at Towson would not be financially viable for the long term,” Waddell said. “Our three main charges are to be competitive, financially stable and compliant with federal law. This is a very difficult decision and it came after examining a wide range of criteria.”

Waddell added that, “Our primary focus for athletics right now is to look after the young men who are competing in these two sports.”

If the proposal is approved, the Tigers would also reinstate the men’s tennis team that was cut eight years ago and add roster spots (which is different than scholarships) to five women’s teams and increase the roster of men’s lacrosse by one. Two spots would be cut from the men’s and women’s basketball team, and one from the men’s swimming and diving team.

The proposed moves, which include eliminating a total of 35 roster spots from men’s and women’s teams, have been considered since last fall. Baseball would lose 37 athletes and men’s soccer 28, while 10 spots would be added for tennis. The women’s team most affected would be track and field, which would add 12 spots.

A task force is expected to be formed to look into the proposed cuts.

Asked about the athletes, parents and coaches doing fundraising to help their teams survive, Waddell said: “This can't be addressed by just fundraising. While the budget was certainly the main driver in this decision, it wasn’t the only one. “

According to the recommendation forwarded by Waddell to the school’s president,  these changes would save about $800,000 – about the same amount the Tigers recently received for football road trips to LSU and Kent State.

Waddell said the guarantee the program received from its two games against Football Bowl Subdivision schools had no bearing on the decision to propose cutting the teams.     

“There’s never a good time to make this announcement,” he said. “Our feelings right now and our focus is with these coaches and trying to make sure this is handled as best as possible. These are tough situations and right now we’re just trying to make sure we’re there for the kids and the staff.”

Danny Skelton, the St. Paul's boys soccer coach and a former captain for Towson's team, said dozens of soccer alumni gathered in March to meet with Waddell to discuss the future of the program and what they could do to ensure that soccer was not eliminated.  At that time, Skelton said Waddell made it clear that the alumni's support -- financially as well as providing a vocal and physical presence -- would go a long way toward ensuring the program's existence. 

After the meeting, Skelton said the alumni raised thousands of dollars for the program and organized an alumni weekend.

"In retrospect, it almost seems that Mr. Waddell had his mind made up well before he even met with the alumni and that our efforts were in vain," he said. "I shudder to think how I will need to explain to my two small children years from now why the soccer program that daddy played for no longer exists. It is disgraceful. The most difficult part for me and many of my fellow alumni is the fact that the soccer program has had a great deal of success over the course of its history, and when compared to the success of the other programs, who, by the way, are fully funded, there is no comparison at all."

Tyler Austin, a four-year pitcher for Towson who graduated in the spring, found out about the decision via Twitter prior to going to work this morning. He said former baseball players were also going to try to rally to save the program, after they were given assurances by the athletic department in the spring that the sport was safe.

"It's completely unexpected for us," said Austin, who led the Tigers in appearances in 2011. "We made the playoffs last year and set a record for fielding percentage. We were successful. It's unbelievable that this could happen. It's ridiculous. Baseball is America's pastime."

Towson's plan would reduce the number of teams to 19 overall. The addition of men’s tennis, which was cut after the 2003-04 academic year, would give Towson the minimum number of men’s teams (seven) needed to compete on the NCAA Division I level.

It would also give the athletic department the same sort of gender participation – a little over 60 percent women to a little under 40 men – that reflects the school’s academic enrollment in accordance with Title IX legislation.

Anthony Adams, the associate head soccer coach at UMBC, compared the news to the University of Baltimore's decision to discontinue soccer in the mid-1980s. That program won the NCAA Division II national championship in 1975.

"It's terrible news," Adams said. "There is a whole group of alumni for years and years that are going to be affected by it. There are also local rivalries with UMBC and Loyola that are going to suffer. We're devastated by it. A lot of people will use Title IX as the scapegoat. But Title IX is geared toward providing more opportunities for women's sports, not taking it away from men's programs."

Pete Caringi, the coach at UMBC, was part of that University of Baltimore championship team and a two-time All-American at the school. He said there are still hard-feelings among UB alumni over the decision to disband the program.

"The alumni, to this day, are still bitter about it," said Caringi, UB's all-time leading scorer with 70 goals. "The history of a great program went down the drain. And now with Towson, this is a shock. Towson has great tradition. It's a shame."

The two programs being cut have had a long history of sustained success under the same head coaches.

Now in his 24th year as the baseball coach, Towson alumnus Mike Gottlieb has averaged more than 25 victories a season and has had 12 players drafted by major league teams, including Casper Wells, now with the Seattle Mariners. In his 30th season, Frank Olszewski ranks 15th among active Division I soccer coaches in wins (276) and has had winning records in 14 of his past 16 seasons.

The announcement at Towson follows a proposal for drastic cuts made last year at Maryland, where initially eight teams were to be cut. Only one of the teams – men’s outdoor track – was saved for at least another year when money was raised privately to support it.

According to the proposal sent  to the president at Towson, athletes currently on teams being cut would not lose their scholarships and could remain in school as long as they were in good academic standing.

don.markus@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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