Towson St.'s swimming, diving sent off deep end by president


The economy hit Towson State yesterday, when athletic director Bill Hunter suspended the Tigers' intercollegiate TC swimming and diving program and indoor track program for men and women at the direction of school president Hoke Smith.

Coaches involved in both programs protested the decisions, calling them "political" and "ill-timed."

The cuts are being made as part of Towson's downsizing efforts. Last week, the university announced the laying off of 19 staff members.

"I was asked by our president to cut [$125,000] from our budget," said Hunter. "I told him the only way to cut that much would be to suspend some of our sports programs. President Smith and his committee settled on these two.

"It's never easy, but these are two non-conference sports," he said, "and in this situation, at least, we're not displacing a coach."

Cutting the men's and women's swimming program will save about $60,000, and cutting the men's and women's indoor track programs will save $3,395, Hunter said. The rest will be "made up from belt tightening" throughout the department, he added.

The cuts will be debated, however, because while cutting long-existing programs -- the swimming program would have celebrated its 25th anniversary this season -- the school is: adding women's soccer, which sources say will cost at least as much as the swim programs; bringing back golf after a two-season absence, and adding an assistant track coach for the first time.

"It does seem inconsistent," said university spokesman Peter Schlehr. "But the decisions to restore golf and to start women's soccer were made before these cuts were known to us."

The Big South Conference, in which Towson competes, has golf and women's soccer programs.

"As I see it, it's a purely political statement," said track coach Roger Erricker. "It's a statement to the rest of the university that -- the athletic department, while being fee-driven and not operating on tax dollars, is doing its part by dropping four sports. . . . From the saving of money point of view, I can't understand it. You could cut in half one of my scholarships [$9,100] and save more than will be saved by cutting the indoor track program."

Unlike the attempted cut of the Towson football program a year ago, these cuts are not proposals. They are being handed down as presidential decisions, cutting short any debate, though Erricker and swimming coach Ray Riordon promise to gather their supporters for some sort of protest.

"It's a bomb dropped in my lap," said Riordon, who learned the program he founded will not be celebrating its 25th anniversary as planned. "I didn't even know the swimming program was being considered for cuts.

"It's not a very professional way of doing this, and the timing, with just three weeks until school begins, is terrible," Riordon said. "I actually had swimming prospects in my office today, not knowing this was about to happen."

Riordon is a tenured professor in the athletic department who will continue to teach, and Erricker will continue to coach cross country and outdoor track.

Since the students involved in indoor track are also members of either the cross country or outdoor track teams, those affected most by the cuts are the 40 men and women who would have made up the Towson swim team. Students have been informed that all scholarship moneys committed to all full-time student-athletes will be honored for the upcoming academic year.

"It seems to me they're doing an awful lot of damage to a lot of people for $60,000," said Riordon, whose program has been .500 or better over the past 21 seasons and finished seventh among 21 teams in the ECAC tournament a year ago. "They've waited until the last minute so that we basically can't do anything toward getting the program restored for this season."

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