Towson's trip to play football at LSU to be featured on '60 Minutes'

As university leaders weigh whether to cut baseball and men's soccer, Towson will be featured by the newsmagazine show "60 Minutes" as an example of a relatively unknown school trying to raise its profile with football. You can watch a preview of the segment here.

Reporters for the show traveled with the Tigers to Baton Rouge to work on the story, which explains how Towson was paid $500,000 to play its game at LSU but reaped more in the way of exposure by playing one of Divsion I's best and most-popular teams. We wrote about the issue at the time.

The timing of the show could not come at a more interesting period. University president Maravene Loeschke has said that a task force evaluating athletic director Mike Waddell's proposal to cut the two sports is in its "final deliberations." That group met yesterday, but did not deliver its final findings. Loeschke is scheduled to meet with the school's board of visitors today. She has said all along that her plan was to receive the task force's report -- though she has also conducted her own concurrent study -- and make a swift decision some time this month. (Here's our broad look at the situation, in case you haven't read it.)

The "60 Minutes" preview and a brief story posted on the show's website make it clear that one of Waddell's primary goals is to bolster football in hopes of improving the school's reputation. This should come as no surprise. Waddell was hired by former Towson president Robert Caret, who believed in the idea that sports -- specifically those that garner attention by media and fans -- serve as the "front porch" of a university.

But his critics -- especially those affiliated with the endangered programs -- will seize on the "60 Minutes" story as proof that Waddell is merely swiping two sports aside to free up money to divert to football and basketball. They have already pointed out that the department was set to run a deficit of $850,000 for fiscal year 2012, which is how much Waddell will eventually save by eliminating the programs.

Waddell, for his part, has said from the beginning that cutting the two sports will allow him to re-distribute money to other programs. He has increased spending by $2.5 million since arriving two years ago; 63 percent of that has gone to salaries. Both football coach Rob Ambrose and basketball coach Pat Skerry contributed to that increase, as did their assistants. But numbers Waddell provided The Sun show that he has added more than $700,000 in salaries related to fundraising, academics, strength training and administration from fiscal year 2011 to 2012.

Waddell considers improvements in these areas to be helping the "competitiveness" of Towson's remaining sports teams. There is some direct correlation there, of course: athletes who spend more time lifting weights or doing so under the supervision of more experienced trainers will presumably perform better on the field. But there's also a hidden element here: recruiting football and basketball players very often comes down to amenities. The number of tutors and presence of a sport-specific strength and conditioning coach matters to them.

After word broke that Towson does not need to make drastic cuts to establish Title IX compliance, it has become more clear that Waddell's plan -- originally meant to achieve the goal of increasing competitiveness, establishing long-term financial stability and establishing Title IX compliance -- is really focused on shifting the way Towson's athletic department spends its money.

Sunday's episode will be a nationally televised explanation of why football matters so much to Towson.

To some people, it will also be a reminder of the two sports that might not matter at Towson beyond this spring.

Two other quick notes:

You have to imagine some Towson people cringed when they saw the clip of football coach Rob Ambrose speaking to his team at halftime of the LSU game. He's already been criticized for his use of foul language this year, and in the clip he's shown saying, "Any of you [expletive] that are smiling because you think we did something, I'm gonna kill you." It's just typical overheated coach speak, of course, but it's a sensitive subject.

Finally, William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, declined a chance to discuss the Towson situation this morning, saying he would not do so until a decision is made. Kirwan is the co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which has decried the focus on big-time football and basketball at the expense of other sports. But he also has a reputation for giving presidents in the system autonomy to do what is right for their schools.

Baltimore Sun staff writer Julie Scharper contributed to this article.

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