PUTTING A GUN to the head of Towson State University football would be a mistake. It shouldn't be abolished or suspended. Schools of smaller size have been able to keep the sport alive and available for students, team members, alumni and general spectators without regard to ticket prices and increased activities fees.
Johns Hopkins University, Western Maryland College, Morgan State University, Salisbury State University and Bowie State University don't play in the so-called "major leagues" but maintain football. In fact, Hopkins and Western Maryland have been playing each other for more than 100 years. If they can do it why can't Towson?
Let's approach the subject from another perspective. Where will all the high school football players in the state of Maryland go if Towson is no longer an option? Maryland has 141 public schools in all 23 counties playing football, not to mention the 27 schools, public, private and parochial, affiliated with the Maryland Scholastic Association. And there are independents scattered throughout the state.
What would you estimate is the number of youngsters who played high school football in Maryland last year? "We conducted a survey," said Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, "and among our member schools we found there were 10,000 participants during the 1989 season."
This Maryland connection is reflected in the Towson rosters of the last 22 years, or since the school has been playing football. There have been 626 varsity members at Towson during that time and 407, or 65 percent, have been Maryland residents. If Towson drops the game it is damaging the chances of high school graduates to earn scholarships.
Next to the University of Maryland, which has an enrollment of 26,863, Towson is second in the state with a student population of 14,958. Football is expensive but worth it. Allowing the game to be dropped and then resumed doesn't make much sense either.
Towson has attracted quality individuals to its football program. Peter Schlehr, sports information director, was asked how many football-playing students have come there and then transferred to other schools, which is always a bad sign? "Probably four or five at the most," he said. "In fact, I can actually think of only one." Conversely, how many have moved to Towson from other colleges and universities?
"Oh, probably 20-times that many have transferred to Towson. That aspect certainly speaks well for the coach who has been here for 19 years." That man, of course, is Phil Albert, who had chances to coach elsewhere but remained at Towson.
Athletic director Bill Hunter, who spent 31 seasons in professional baseball, including the major leagues, as a player, manager and coach, has an appreciation for football. He was recruited by Penn State after World War II and "farmed" to Indiana (Pa.) Teachers College, with the promise he'd return. He never went back because he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
University president Dr. Hoke Smith, John Connolly, chairman of the Towson intercollegiate athletic committee, and Hunter are expected to attend an open forum tomorrow, which kicks off at 2:35 p.m. in the Chesapeake Room of the University Union. Smith, it's understood, will be there mainly to listen to what those in attendance have to say without making any direct comment or promises about the future.
Suspending football would seem to be only a stopgap, just as Towson State temporarily gave up, of all things, golf, last spring. Towson isn't sponsoring football to turn out players for the National Football League but two of its products earned their way to the New York Giants, namely Sean Landeta and Dave Meggett.
Meggett says having football "helps a lot of student-athletes." And Landeta, as an alternative, hopes Towson will consider scaling down other sports, which is an idea with merit. And, furthermore, there's no reason why Towson couldn't spell out its problems to the NCAA and ask permission to drop back to another level of football competition.
Towson has a 22-year investment in college football. It's a worthwhile endeavor that is valuable to the school and especially to those given the opportunity to play the sport. With the guidance of the president, Dr. Smith, a way should be found to save it and to retain continuity -- not to drop-kick it into oblivion.