Money woes may sack Towson football Higher student fee linked to survival

October 10, 1990|By Bill Glauber

Phil Albert sits in his corner office at Towson State University, surrounded by memorabilia from football teams past. The posters and pictures are stark reminders that the Tigers once were a power -- four times in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II and III playoffs.

Now, the Tigers are 0-5 in their fourth year in the fitter and meaner world of Division I-AA. But that's the least of Albert's worries.

Without a proposed $100 rise in the athletic fee imposed on the school's 9,200 full-time students, the Towson State football program could fall victim to a potential budget cut after 22 seasons of operation.

"The thing has gotten out of hand," Albert said. "Every business is going to review its financial structure every year. It shouldn't be a dollars-and-cents issue. I'm disappointed with all the

publicity, rumor and speculation out there."

For nearly two decades, sports at Towson State were a growth industry. Teams were added, old facilities were vacated, an arena was built and a stadium was carved into the side of a hill.

But these are leaner times. Towson State's athletic department -- which lost $181,809 in the 1989-90 year -- is projected to run a deficit again this year. School officials are studying an athletic department proposal to boost the yearly athletic fee paid by full-time students from $270 to $370 to close the budget gap.

"If we don't get more money, I can't see any alternative but to drop football," athletic director Bill Hunter said. "But I'm trying to sell the program as it stands. Football is the rallying point. But if you look at the numbers, it's kind of simple. If you take out the money for football and plug it into the rest of the program, you're OK. But we don't want to do that."

Ten days ago, Towson State president Dr. Hoke L. Smith asked the school's nine-member Intercollegiate Athletic Committee to review the entire program and look for ways to solve the current budget crisis while providing a quickly drawn blueprint for the future.

"Currently, we don't have the funding to run the [athletic] program of this size," Smith said. "We can either increase funding, decrease the size of the program or keep everything as it is, in the same place, with all the problems and frustrations we currently have."

The committee is expected to file a report -- and potentially, an athletic budget -- with the faculty senate Monday.

"It's too early to say that anything has crystallized," said committee member Jay Stanley, a professor in Towson State's sociology department.

The committee is faced with difficult choices, compounded by events outside the school's control:

* Towson State's affiliation with the East Coast Conference is imperiled because Bucknell, Lafayette and Lehigh left the league this year, Delaware and Drexel will leave at the end of the school year, and with only five holdovers, the ECC will lose its automatic qualifier in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

* The NCAA will vote this January on a restructuring policy to toughen Division I admission standards. To remain in the top classification, the Tigers likely will have to increase scholarships programwide to a core of 14 sports. Dropping football from Division I-AA to Division II or III also could result in the entire program losing its Division I status.

"Division I is where we want to be," Hunter said. "That leads to what sports we should have. Do we have the commitment to do that? Therein lies the crux of the problem. If our dollar figures don't change, how do we meet Division I guidelines?"

A two-year deficit of $257,018 is projected for the athletic department. The 1990-91 budget of $2,908,420 includes an allocation of $734,936 for football. The budget is funded by a yearly athletic fee, which is currently $270 for full-time students and $35 for part-time students. Hunter said raising the athletic fee $100 for full-time students will stop the financial decline, plug gaps in the football program and position Towson State for potentially tougher Division I admission standards.

Smith said he is unsure whether students are willing to absorb a 37 percent increase in the athletic fee.

"To make the athletic program well, we require an additional student fee increase," Smith said. "There is a question of whether or not the fee is ethical in an age of cost containment. Initial probings show that parents who pay the bills say 'Fine,' but students who pay their bills say 'No.'

According to proposed 1991-92 budgets prepared by Hunter, with only a $30 rise in the athletic fee, the department would operate with a $26,734 deficit. Take football, field hockey and the men's and women's indoor track programs out of the equation, though, and a surplus of $788,982 is projected. With the athletic fee increased to $370, and only indoor track sliced from the school's 21-team alignment, a surplus of $328,615 is projected.

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