Tom McMillen praises Towson for delaying decision on cuts after concerns are raised

Members of the Towson baseball and men’s soccer teams continue to wait to hear whether their programs will be disbanded by the university.

President Maravene Loeschke sent a message to students and faculty Monday saying that a task force asked to study the decision had endorsed the recommendation to cut the sports. But she also said she would need more time to examine the issue before making her decision.

She hopes to do so “as soon after winter break as possible.”

Loeschke was not available for an interview this week, nor was Towson athletics director Mike Waddell.

Towson baseball coach Mike Gottlieb said he has not been given any other update by either Loeschke or Waddell and has not had a conversation with either since the recommendation was made public Oct. 2.

Tom McMillen, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, applauded Towson’s decision to take more time.

“This is how a process should work: it’s actually a process,” the former Maryland basketball star, Olympian and politician said. “Towson received feedback from a lot of people – we heard from a lot of people, too – and those people had valid concerns.”

McMillen was highly critical of the way Maryland handled its move to the Big Ten, which was negotiated under what he called "an extremely onerous" non-disclosure clause that limited the chance for feedback from stakeholders.

Alumni and parents of Towson athletes – including Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, who played both sports at Towson – flooded the email inboxes of Loeschke, University System of Maryland chancellor Brit Kriwan (who also has not responded to an interview request) and members of the board of regents.  

While they originally fought to save the sports by pointing out each team’s long history and responsibility in the classroom, supporters have begun aggressively questioning the method Towson used to reach the decision. While Waddell, members of his staff and others at the university have studied the problem for 16 months, the task force had about a month and a half of time to review the recommendation.

The task force also included several people who were heavily involved in making the original recommendation, including Waddell’s deputy. Others on the task force have close ties to the department and its leadership; a lawyer listed as an adjunct professor for the College of Liberal Arts also speaks with athletes on legal issues and has ended up representing several of them in court.

Those fighting to save the teams also seized on Towson admitting that numbers it provided publicly to explain the school’s Title IX problem were flawed and failed to properly count the number of opportunities provided to women athletes at Towson.

Still, in her letter announcing the delay, Loeschke took umbrage with reports that Towson does not have Title IX "challenges," calling them "completely inaccurate." No Towson official would explain the Title IX issue, although Loeschke promised to do so when she makes her decision.

(Yes, I wrote a story saying Towson's Title IX problem isn't as bad as it was originally made out to be. And, yes, I stand by it until somebody -- anybody -- from the school offers an alternate explanation.)

David Nevins, who chaired the task force, did not want to discuss details of the group’s work but said he was “very pleased” that Loeschke had pushed off her decision.

“It’s very complicated,” he said.

While a majority of the task force did agree that cutting sports was Towson’s best option, a minority opinion expressed in the final report suggested further study and urged a less drastic solution.

“A minority view provides that this is a rush to judgment,” the report reads, “based on information and data that appeared too often to change or shift.”

The task force did recommend that Towson raise its student fee, regardless of whether it decides ultimately to drop the sports. Student fees already provide more than $14 .4 million of the department's $18 million budget.

The university will save about $800,000 a year by fiscal year 2018 if it drops the sports (that number will be lower until then because the school has committed to honoring scholarships promised to baseball and men’s soccer players who choose to stay.) The athletic department is already running at a deficit of about that much per year, and Waddell’s plan calls for any savings to be re-distributed to other teams.

Towson's website has listed several job openings in the athletic department recently, including one for a deputy director of athletics, internal operations. Spending under Waddell has risen steadily, and his focus has been on improving the operations side of the department and providing more support for students in the form of academic advisers, strength coaches and medical personnel. He has also bolstered fundrasing efforts.

Loeschke's delay means that baseball and soccer players may have to decide whether to transfer before they actually know the fate of Towson's teams. But Gottlieb said he has not been approached by any players saying they plan to leave for a more stable situation.

Soccer coach Frank Olszewski said all of his players would like to return, as well. Unlike the baseball team, the soccer team would not be able to play another season if the sport is dropped. So Olszewski has told them he'll run spring practice regardless of whether there is a season to prepare for at Towson.

Gottlieb has stopped actively recruiting and working on future schedules, but saw this week's announcement as a positive sign.

"I hope this just means that they don't know what they need to do," he said. "I'm hopeful that there's a strong thought out there that we can find a way to do what we need to do as a department and not lose these teams."

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