Ironically, stepping up led to Towson St.'s downfall

November 01, 1990|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

When Towson State upgraded its football program to Divisio I-AA status in 1987, the Tigers had grand plans.

They were going to expand Minnegan Stadium. Improved attendance would mean more scholarships and make Towson State attractive to the Yankee Conference. Athletic director Bill Hunter had a tentative schedule for 1992 that included Navy.

It's safe to say those plans won't be realized any time soon.

This is homecoming week at Towson State, but the Tigers aren't talking about Saturday's game against New Haven. There are two more home games against Youngstown State and Northeastern, and they could be the last played at Towson State for a while, because the school is close to dropping the sport.

The Intercollegiate Athletc Committee was to hold an open forum this afternoon, but it has already forwarded a proposal to the University Senate that calls for suspending Towson State football at the end of this season. The University Senate could make a recommendation to president Hoke L. Smith as early as Monday.

The Tigers are 1-7, their only victory coming last week against Howard. Senior linebacker Doug Vereen was a freshman in 1986, the Tigers' last in Division II, when they went 8-3-1 and were hailed as the best team in the East at that level.

"I don't think it was a mistake going to Division I-AA, but there wasn't the commitment from the administration that we needed," Vereen said. "If we were 7-1, bringing in more money, things would probably be different. The players feel people are kicking us when we're down, but the program might not be this way if it had more support."

There were signs that Towson State was in trouble as soon as it moved to Division I-AA. The Tigers went 4-6 in 1987 and 5-5 in 1988, even though tailback David Meggett was honored as the nation's best Division I-AA player. Towson State slipped to 2-8 last year and has won only two of its last 13 games.

"I didn't have a say in the decision," said coach Phil Albert, who is in his 19th year at Towson.

Albert has complained often about a lack of scholarships. The Division I-AA maximum is 70, and the Tigers offer the equivalent of 43. That's below the Division II maximum of 45.

"We had 27 scholarships when we moved up from Division II," Hunter said.

In eight years in Division II, from 1979-86, Towson State went 60-26-2 and was honored as the premier team in the East in three of its last four years at that level, winning the Lambert/Meadowlands Award.

Hunter became athletic director in 1985 and presented a plan to the University Senate to move football to Division I-AA, the logic being that Division II scheduling was becoming a problem and the athletic department wanted all of its teams in Division I.

He said yesterday the proposal was approved by the University Senate by a margin of one vote. He sounded as if he wished it hadn't passed.

"I don't know if I want to call it a mistake," Hunter said. "I will say this: I don't know if we were in the position financially to do the things necessary to prosper in Division I. We kept plugging in a little money here and a little there, but it was never enough. Phil [Albert] knew of the disadvantages, as far as funding was concerned.

"We had a Division I-AA fund-raising drive that first year, and we raised over $80,000 for football. That kind of fund-raising wasn't ongoing, though. The Tiger Club was supposed to finance 15 scholarships for football every year, but that hasn't happened."

Another thing that hasn't happened is the expansion of Minnegan Stadium, which Towson State figured would make it an attractive prospect for a Division I-AA Conference. Hunter has never stopped petitioning to join the Yankee Conference, which includes Delaware, Villanova and Richmond, but there was no place in that league for a 5,000-seat stadium.

Three years ago, Hunter discussed expanding Minnegan Stadium to a 12,000- or 15,000-seat capacity. (The Tigers have averaged 2,047 fans per game this season.)

"Those plans are still on the books," Hunter said. "Expansion of Minnegan Stadium moves from the bottom of the list of capital improvement projects, to the middle back to the bottom. It's a chicken or egg thing. If we were in a conference and drew more, we could address the stadium situation."

Vereen, the senior linebacker, mentioned the stadium situation as an example of the commitment the program receives.

"Just about every person I've talked to in the program said that was a recruiting gimmick used to get them here," Vereen said. "That hasn't been mentioned lately. The only thing mentioned lately is dropping football."

Proposal from the Intercollegiate Athletic Committeeto the University Senate

"Whereas the NCAA is considering restructuring; and whereas the fiscal restrictions we are now under; and whereas the effect the decision will have on student-athletes; the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee recommends a motion to suspend football at Towson State University after the 1990 season and to have an annual review of this decision."

TSU highs and lows

1969 * Towson State plays first football game, losing 14-13 to Washington & Lee. Team goes 4-4-1 for coach Carl Runk.

1972 * Phil Albert succeeds Runk as head coach. Team finishes 1-9, its last losing record before 1987.

1974 * Towson goes 10-0, its only unbeaten, untied season.

1976 * Towson goes 10-3, but loses to St. John's (Minn.) 31-28 in NCAA Division III championship game.

1979 * Program upgrades to Division II and has 9-1 record.

1983 * Towson finishes 10-2 and is a NCAA Division II quarterfinalist.

1984 * Towson goes 9-4 and is a NCAA Division II semifinalist.

1986 * Towson finishes at 8-3-1 and wins Lambert Award as best team

East for third time in four years. Albert gets 100th victory, 12-10 over Liberty.

1987 * Program upgrades to Division I-AA and stumbles to a 4-6 record.

1990

* Towson is winless in its first seven games, the worst start in program's history.

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