Towson University baseball could live to fight another year after Gov. Martin O'Malley included an additional $300,000 in his 2014 budget to help the university sort through difficulties with its athletic funding.
The baseball program had been slated for elimination after this season until O'Malley became interested in its fate.
An O'Malley spokeswoman said Monday that the appropriation, still subject to General Assembly approval, resulted from a one-on-one meeting last week between the governor and Towson president Maravene Loeschke. "It allows them a little bit of time to come up with a more sustainable solution," spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.
Loeschke announced in March that the university would eliminate its baseball and men's soccer programs because she could find no alternative plan to achieve fiscal stability and compliance with federal Title IX rules for gender equity. The soccer program will not be saved by O'Malley's budget supplement.
"No leader seeks to make a decision to disappoint young people who have a passion, whether it's a sport or an academic discipline. I thank the Governor for helping Towson address this Title IX issue through his supplemental budget — a move only he could make," Loeschke said Monday in a statement. "I am pleased that he heard my strong desire to not resolve this issue solely on the backs of students with a large student fee increase, and I applaud his continued commitment to keep college affordable in Maryland."
Loeschke said that even with the additional funds, the university would have to raise its student fee 1 percent, or about $8 a year, and raise $100,000 a year in donations to keep the baseball program operating.
Guillory said the governor was "not pleased" with Loeschke's decision to eliminate the programs, a plan he learned about from news reports. O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot first expressed their displeasure at a March 20 Board of Public Works meeting, where they withheld money for a separate university project in Harford County, pending an explanation of the athletic cuts by Loeschke.
That action led to the one-on-one meeting a week ago between O'Malley and the Towson president. "They came to this solution, which is not a permanent solution, but a compromise," Guillory said.
Towson baseball coach Mike Gottlieb said he was gratified that the governor and others took an interest in his program. "Needless to say, I'm excited," he said of the new funding. "Maybe this will be the end of this thing. It's been a very stressful time for me and the kids."
He said it was "bittersweet" to hear good news about his program but not about the men's soccer program.
"Somehow, they found $300,000 in the supplemental budget for baseball and not for soccer?" said Carl Kirts, a former Towson soccer player who helped spearhead fundraising to keep the men's program. "I know the parents of the current group of baseball players have been very organized and vocal about keeping the program. I was also told that Title IX was still an issue. So, if you have men's tennis and bring back baseball, how much money is left for men's soccer?"
Last month, Kirts requested that his $500 donation to the Towson University Foundation in support of men's soccer, part of the T-Club Challenge fundraiser, be refunded. However, the university denied the request, saying the the money would be allocated for the soccer program until the end of the spring semester.
Loeschke, in her second year as president, drew particular criticism for informing players of the cuts at a hastily called meeting where she was flanked by several university police officers. Loeschke said the cuts were painful but necessary after a university task force and groups of outside supporters failed to come up with a plan that would solve the university's budget and Title IX problems.
The decision put the Towson president at odds with athletes, coaches and families associated with the programs and also alienated a cadre of powerful alumni including Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz.
But the cuts seemed inevitable until O'Malley and Franchot entered the fray.
The governor's budget language says the $300,000 is intended to give Towson time to address its Title IX issues, to explore adding another women's program and to support baseball operations while the university launches a fundraising effort to make the baseball program self-sufficient within two years. The governor also plans to include $300,000 in next year's budget for the same purpose.
Gottlieb said if the funding is approved, he expects his players to remain at Towson, though many have explored transferring. "These kids had a chance to leave at mid-year and nobody did," he said. "They've played their butts off and competed with everybody we've played. Maybe that has been their release."
Towson, which is 13-13 overall and 5-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, is scheduled to play at Delaware State today. "It would be really nice," Gottlieb said, "to wake up and only have to worry about winning a ballgame."
Todd Karpovich contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun