By Maravene Loeschke
10:51 AM EDT, March 15, 2013
Recently, I announced with a heavy heart the discontinuation of men's soccer and baseball at Towson University. The decision was made after an extensive review following the initial recommendation from athletics leadership and the majority support of an independent task force charged to resolve three critical issues facing the university: long-term financial sustainability and affordability of the athletics budget; compliance with gender equity requirements of Title IX; and overall academic and athletic competitiveness of our Division I program.
With regard to finances, as president I have the ultimate obligation to ensure responsible stewardship of university resources, now and in the future. In these challenging financial times, difficult decisions must be made to serve the long-term best interests of the entire university. State funds cannot be used to pay for athletics, and thus their financing is a special challenge in our state institutions. Fundraising, program revenues and student fees are the primary sources of funding for the university's $18.27 million athletics program. Towson students pay the second-highest athletic fees in the state, at $798 per year. I am not willing to allow Towson students to bear the burden of a significant fee increase to support our athletic programs. This discontinuation of the two teams will save $897,083 (dropping to $800,083 after adding back men's tennis). This will help control growth of student fees, present a significant savings that will be reallocated to the overall athletics budget, and eliminate its operating deficit by fiscal 2015.
In terms of Title IX, it is imperative that our female athletes receive the level of support required by federal law. Unfortunately, providing equitable opportunity for female athletes is far too often ignored or deemed "something you can get around or solve later." Towson University will not take that position. Furthermore, Towson's historic practice to add a women's sports team every five years until substantial proportionality is achieved has not kept pace with the changing demographics of our undergraduate population. Therefore, Towson's approach to address Title IX requirements was the most viable, long-term method to achieve gender equity compliance with federal law.
It is time for Towson University to invest in our student-athletes and compete like a Division I program. While growing to 22,000 students, Towson has raised its academic profile by garnering national attention and increasing innovation and outreach by tripling sponsored and applied research. Towson athletics should now rise to the same level of success. To do this, Towson must sharply focus on strategic investments that will increase competitiveness within our conference. We must give greater attention to all aspects of the student-athlete experience to ensure our athletes are well-suited for competition by investing in scholarships across all sports, increasing academic support for athletes, providing competitive coaching salaries, enhancing wellness and nutrition, and more.
During the extensive deliberations leading up to this decision, we worked hard to conduct a transparent and inclusive process. We provided weekly updates, held two open forums, and reviewed more than 4,000 web comments from players, their families, alumni and other interested parties on the Towson website created for that specific purpose. Task force members considered 13 different options, and during my review our financial team met and spent considerable time vetting last-minute ideas and additional options. This all contributed to the extended timeline.
This issue has put enormous stress on our community and most especially our student athletes. That is why it was important for me to personally share the decision with the men's soccer and baseball teams before a formal announcement was made public. Having to do so was one of the most difficult tasks of my career. I would not have been able to stand before them unless I was confident in both the integrity of the process and our analysis of the information. If any other option had solved the three issues we face, we would have gladly taken that path.
The university will now move forward in support of every student athlete, whether they choose to continue their studies at Towson with their athletic scholarships intact or transfer. We have done that by working closely with the NCAA and Colonial Athletic Association, to grant full release for affected players effective immediately. Our athletics support team, complete with counseling center staff, will remain available to help and support our student athletes in every way possible.
Now we must continue to serve and advance the Towson University community with excellence, leadership and pride.
Maravene Loeschke is the president of Towson University. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The president's final report is available on the Towson University website at http://www.towson.edu/athleticstaskforce.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun