The Towson State football program is in for more changes. Another new league, another batch of new opponents.
Only this time, the direction is different. Five years ago, there was talk of the university dropping football for financial reasons. Now, the Tigers are moving forward, as evidenced by yesterday's announcement that Towson State had been accepted as an associate member of the Division I-AA Patriot League, beginning in 1997.
By then, its two-year commitment with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference-Intercollegiate Football Conference will have run out. And the Tigers will be ready to join a league known for its "quality football and academic excellence," said Towson State president Dr. Hoke L. Smith.
"It's been a long road to get to today, but we're very pleased that our football program and our institution have been recognized for the quality and balance that they represent," Smith said. "It is a great day for Towson State and Towson football."
Meanwhile, UMBC announced that it has rescinded its letter of resignation to the Big South Conference and will remain a member indefinitely. UMBC had submitted the letter on Aug. 31, 1994, to take effect Sept. 1, 1996, in compliance with conference bylaws. The Retrievers run cross country and play soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, golf and tennis in the Big South.
"The conferences that we were pursuing had not yet decided to expand," said Dr. Charles Brown, the school's athletic director. "Other leagues have expressed interest, but our current affiliation seemed much more advantageous for our student-athletes. Of course, we will continue to keep our long-term options open."
This is the first year that Towson State's football team, now devoid of scholarship players, has competed in the ECAC-IFC. Previously, the Tigers had been an independent.
And although the Patriot League is still Division I-AA, and still non-scholarship, it offers a higher grade of competition, more practice and postseason possibilities and a broader coaching base than the streamlined ECAC-IFC.
"This announcement is indicative of the commitment that we have to football here. It delivers a statement that football is very important to us here at Towson State University," said athletic director Wayne Edwards.
Only Towson's football team will compete in the Patriot League, joining Bucknell, Colgate, Fordham, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Lehigh. The Tigers play 19 sports in the North Atlantic Conference.
Each of the Patriot League schools receives only need-based financial aid. Towson State coach Gordy Combs said he hopes to be able to schedule "at least one scholarship team every year, maybe two."
Yesterday's announcement was made by Connie Hurlbut, the league's executive director.
"Towson's success on the football field, its dedication to the principals of the league and the academic achievements of its football program are compatible with what the Patriot
League represents," she said. "Philosophically, geographically and competitively, Towson State is a perfect fit for the Patriot League."
Hurlbut and Smith discussed Towson State applying to the league in January. The talks grew more serious in June, when the Patriot League Council of Presidents approved associate, single-sport membership.
"I realize this is tempered a little bit because we have to play this week," Combs said, "but it's also good to know where our football program is going in the future."
The Tigers' first game as a member of the Patriot League comes Sept. 13, 1997, at home, against Holy Cross.
"The athletic directors were unanimous in supporting Towson State as a new member," said Holy Cross AD Ron Perry. More changes could be in store for Towson and the league.
Edwards said the number of full-time coaches at Towson will increase by 1997. Dr. Smith said there are "rough plans" for enlarging Minnegan Stadium, depending on the growth in attendance.
And in June, the Patriot League lifted its ban on postseason play and is applying for an automatic bid to the Division I-AA playoffs.
Also, it was decided in June that each school would be allowed 15 spring practice days, something Towson had to do without this year.