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Morgan sports have some juice, but officials asleep at switch

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT APPEARED that Morgan State University's athletic department was moving in the right direction, but upon further review, school officials are still sleepwalking.

Despite $28 million in improvements to Hughes Stadium and Hill Field House, there are signs that the decision-makers like the president and his budget managers either don't have a clue or don't care.

How else do you explain playing surfaces on the game and practice fields needing to be replaced after only one year? How else do you explain the lack of corporate advertising in two newly renovated facilities? How else do you explain a university not having a full-time marketing director in the athletic department until recently?

There is no need for a full-fledged housecleaning, but how about a broom and a lot of sweeping? With the new renovations and an improved football program, Morgan should be close to turning the corner.

Instead, the corner keeps getting wider.

Let's look at the latest debacle: Morgan's football field is an embarrassment. It's nearly as bald as Michael Jordan. At one point, one level of the field seems to be an inch or two below the other. Mud wrestling would be more suitable than football on this giant field of black guacamole.

"You think it looks bad now, you should have seen it during the [Delaware] State game," said one football player as he walked by.

The practice fields are just as bad. Mud is ankle deep. Rocks and other sharp objects are on the surface.

Anyone seen the junkyard dog?

The chances of players getting hurt in practice are greater than playing four road games. No coach wants to recruit under these conditions. No recruits want to play on these fields.

But now, mysteriously, the school has "found" $350,000 for an artificial surface. More tax dollars wasted. But with the field destroyed in only a year, does that mean the press box will fall down soon?

How about the new aluminum seats fastened into the old concrete? Can they hold up?

Here's the biggest question: Why didn't Morgan use the Maryland Stadium Authority for overseeing the construction of its facilities? According to athletic director David Thomas, the MSA won't be used in selecting the company to put down the new surface, either.

"When I first arrived here as athletic director, you could cut the tension with a knife because of the difficulties with the architects, with the engineers," said Thomas, who is entering his third year. "Apparently, from what I've been told is that the fields were located on an old dump, and some of those objects have worked their way toward the surface.

"I remember I had a fleeting conversation with Wayne Edwards [Towson University's athletic director] once, and he asked me why we didn't consult with the Maryland Stadium Authority. Those decisions are made by our engineering and planning staff."

Get the broom.

It's apparent that group didn't know what it was talking about. Towson officials didn't, either, but at least they had the sense to secure the MSA when the time came to pump $20 million into the upgrading of their facilities.

"I think they [MSA] got involved as soon as we made the first proposal to build," said former Towson president Hoke L. Smith. "They were the first logical choice. They provided a great deal of technical assistance, and they are trusted by the legislature.

"They worked with us very well to bring down the prices, and it helped save us some of the taxpayers' money."

The MSA helped with the creation and design of Oriole Park, Ravens Stadium and the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland. Some other projects included Ripken Stadium, the Towson University Sports Complex, and the expansion of the Baltimore and Ocean City convention centers.

These are some of the finest facilities in all of sports, yet Morgan deals with a company that couldn't even lay down a rug.

If Morgan and the MSA got hitched, it would be the MSA's first project associated with the African-American community. That certainly would give legislators more confidence about freeing up money for Morgan in the future. The MSA, though, doesn't solicit work; groups come to them.

"No, we haven't done anything with Morgan," said Richard W. Slosson, executive director of the MSA. "But we'd love to be able to get with them at some point."

There you go. Call the number. Then when it's finished, work on that marketing department. It's unbelievable that Morgan, with all the renovations, has no signage up at the stadium or field house. You would expect to see a Burger King, Coke sign, something ... but nothing.

"We're working toward developing partnerships. We're close, but we haven't gotten over the hump yet," said Thomas. "We've made progress, and we will be getting there soon."

It's about time. Over the years, integration has been blamed for the demise of black colleges, especially in sports. That's true to a degree, and you often hear that as an excuse at Morgan. But that happened more than 30 years ago.

Get over it. Integration didn't stop Morgan from using the MSA. It didn't stop the school from soliciting corporate ads. It didn't force Morgan to take almost two years to hire a new athletic director and a marketing director. A lot of the problems lie within Morgan itself, like complacency and lack of vision.

If it's not straightened out soon, the Bears will go back to losing. There is already speculation that Norfolk State (4-6) will fire football coach Maurice Forte at the end of the season and pursue Bears coach Donald Hill-Eley, who has two years left on his contract.

"That would hurt us a lot. He has brought a lot to this program," said Thomas. "That's why we have to strike when the iron is hot. My vision is for Morgan to become a respectable program again."

The opportunities are there. The men in charge have to wake up and make better decisions.

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