There were 22 players, seven on scholarship, on the Towson University baseball roster when Mike Gottlieb took over as the coach at his alma mater in 1988. The Tigers won the East Coast Conference championship that season.
There will be 35 players on the roster, 15 on scholarship, when Towson plays its next -- and presumably last -- season of baseball next spring.
In hearing the news Tuesday that a program that has been a big part of his life since he came to Baltimore in the mid-1970s from Long Island will likely be cut as part of the athletic department's proposed reorganization, Gottlieb's emotions swirl in a mix of sadness and anger.
The sadness is for the athletes who won't be able to finish, or even start, their college careers at Towson -- many of whom are not even the baseball team. As part of the proposal, the men's soccer team is also among the cuts. Athletes currently at the school whose teams will be cut can remain as long as they are in good academic standing.
"I know we will support them academically, that's great, that's the only way to go, but to support emotionally and take their sports away, that's tough," Gottlieb said in an interview Wednesday. "The community opened their arms to these kids and we're just saying 'there's no way.'
"We have a lot of smart people running this place, let's find a way to make it happen. Even if doesn't support one of our goals, which is winning. What I'm hearing is, 'If we can't win, why bother?' I'm not sure that's what this department was founded upon."
Gottlieb's anger is directed at the administrators who he said kept him and others in the dark for the past year.
"I didn't know any more going into yesterday than I did 13 months ago," Gottlieb said. "The funny thing is, there were some rumors almost a year ago that were told to me that turned out to be the way it played out in terms of what was dropped and what was added."
Third-year athletic director Mike Waddell announced Tuesday that proposals to cut the two teams, the salaries of the coaching staff and some 65 roster spots -- as well as reestablish a men's tennis team and make other cuts and additions to several other sports -- was done to comply with Title IX legislation. It calls for the same ratio of approximately 60-40 female-to-male students.
Waddell said that the proposed moves will also save the athletic program about $800,000.
"What concerns me is that they apparently have the philosophy that whatever sports we have, we're going to have the infrastructure to have a legitimate chance to win a championship," said Gottlieb, whose teams have had winning records 14 of the past 16 years and have averaged over 25 wins a year. "I can appreciate that. Probably that's the way it is in the ACC, the Southeastern Conference and the Pac-12. There are a lot of mid-major programs in the country that don't have those resources.
"There was a time not long ago when it was about giving kids the experience with a combination of education and athletics. We didn't have the support we needed to be great, but looking back, a lot of kids loved their experience here. I've had a deluge of that support over the last 24 hours. ... They seem to think that if you're fully funded, you're going to always win. It doesn't work that way."
Gottlieb, 56, said he has received more than 100 phone calls, emails and text messages offering support, a number that increases fourfold on social media. Had Gottlieb known his program was in jeopardy of being dropped, he said he would never have offered up spots to three high school seniors who recently made commitments to play for the Tigers starting in 2013-14.
"I had to make three phone calls to tell people they might have to look elsewhere because right now I can't guarantee they have a baseball program to play for," Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said he hoped for Waddell and others involved in making the proposed cuts to look at how many roster spots are realistically needed in each sport to compete at a reasonably high level. In baseball, Gottlieb believes that Towson could survive with the same 25-man roster used at the major league level.
"Absolutely," Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said these proposed moves are, in part, a byproduct of how slowly the athletic department moved prior to Waddell's arrival.
"Finally a basketball arena is being built that they should have had maybe 20 years ago," Gottlieb said. "We didn't get a wooden floor for basketball until 1995 or '96, 15 years after we went Division I. That's how slow things moved around here. We've been slow in moving up the ladder in helping our teams. It's like because we're not where we should be in helping our teams as a department, we've got to cut back because the financing hasn't come like we hoped."
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