Thursday usually provides a hard, physical day of practice for the Towson State football team, but coach Phil Albert is giving his players the afternoon off for something a little more important than Saturday's homecoming game against New Haven.
Albert, his coaches and players will be attending an open forum of the school's Intercollegiate Athletic Committee. That group has already recommended to the University Senate that the program be suspended at the end of this season.
"I'm not going to speak at the forum," Albert said. "I think that would be self-serving, but I do want the people who are making decisions to realize the impact it would have on people's lives.
"Some things are more valuable than dollars and cents," Albert said. "From 1974 to '86 [when the Tigers never had a losing record and made four NCAA tournament appearances], our program gave our athletic department visibility in the Eastern part of the country."
Several of his players graduated early this year, and Albert started this season with just seven seniors. The players who were planning to spend the next few years playing football at Towson State have been scrambling to keep up with the rumors concerning the program's demise.
"Parents of players have been told that scholarships will be honored through next semester, and then that's it," junior cornerback Dale Waters said. "I'm one of the lucky ones. Of the guys who would be fifth-year seniors next year, I think I'm the only one who will be able to graduate this year."
Ken Weeks, a sophomore wide receiver out of Mount St. Joseph High who was celebrating his 20th birthday yesterday, is a typical Towson State player. When he entered the school in the fall of 1988, he was paying for school with loans and need-based aid. He was a walk-on in football, but eventually gained some scholarship aid.
"I have to look at my options," said Weeks, a business major with a 3.0 grade-point average. "This is my 10th year of football. I started with an Optimist Club in Columbia. It seems like I've been playing the game my whole life, and I was looking forward to playing my last two years of college. I don't want it to end on a note like this."
Redshirt freshman Aaron Bates, a rare Towson State player in that he is receiving a full scholarship, suffered a season-ending knee injury in an Oct. 13 game against James Madison. If Towson State drops football, players would be free to play elsewhere, but Bates knows that some schools would look at him as damaged goods.
"If it happens, I feel like I've got to go through the recruiting process all over again," Bates said.
Assistant head coach Gordy Combs said: "Making the decision on which college to attend brings a lot of anxiety to families, and they would have to go through that again."
Albert once taught at Towson State, and is a tenured faculty member. Combs and four other full-time assistants are concerned about job security.
"What happens to the players and coaches?" Combs said. "I don't know. I played here for three years and this is my 18th year as a coach, and there are a lot of emotions going through my mind. I don't want to move my family.
"I'm in the dark as to what's going on, and I don't think I'm in the minority. Somebody should have told the coaches what was going on. People should have come to us and told us what was going on. We heard a rumor in early September, and it wasn't reported in print until the Friday before the Indiana game [Sept. 29]."
"The worst thing about the situation is the secrecy," said Don Danley, another assistant coach.
Reading newspaper reports yesterday, the coaches and players found out that the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee already had forwarded a proposal to the University Senate, recommending that football be suspended. If the University Senate agrees with that recommendation, Towson State president Dr. Hoke L. Smith told reporters he probably will endorse it.
The athletic department could face a deficit of more than $250,000 by the end of the school year, and the quickest way to eliminate that would be to suspend football.
The football team's budget of $750,000 is roughly one-fourth of the $2.9 million athletic department budget for 1990-91. Football costs include more than $330,000 this year for scholarships.
If football is suspended, university officials say it possibly could be resumed at a lower level -- with fewer scholarships -- sometime in the future.
Neil Gallagher, chairman of the University Senate and a member of the IAC, said of the IAC's proposal: "We could have put in the wording, 'eliminate completely,' but the motion says 'suspend.' I know it's been said that football could be suspended and come back in 1992, but it may be a little longer than that."