Towson supporters mount last-ditch drive

November 02, 1990|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

Supporters of Towson State football hope to mobilize an emergency fund-raising campaign that would stave off the demise of the program, at least for one more year.

The University Senate meets Monday to consider a proposal to suspend football. Yesterday, members of the senate were among the approximately 500 people who attended an open forum that grew heated as university president Hoke L. Smith and athletic director Bill Hunter came under attack.

A week ago, the school's Intercollegiate Athletic Committee voted 8-1 to recommend suspension. After listening to 46 formal speakers for more than three hours yesterday, however, the four students on the IAC said they will work on proposals for more effective fund-raising.

Raising money has long been a problem for the athletic department, which faces a $257,000 deficit by the end of the school year. After yesterday's forum, Steve Blake, executive director of the Tiger Club, met with 25 people for 2 1/2 hours, mapping out an emergency effort to save Towson State football.

Five alumni and three parents are heading up a campaign to solicit immediate financial support, although no goal has been set. When Towson State plays its homecoming game tomorrow (1:30 p.m.), fans will be given pledge cards. The parents of players will be meeting with Smith following the game, and Jack Patterson, one of the parents, will take the pledge cards with him.

"The parents are going to ask Dr. Smith at that time to keep the program a minimum of one more year," Blake said. "The focus right now is getting people to support homecoming tomorrow, and then we'll develop a fund-raising campaign on the corporate end."

Duane Townsend, one of the four students on the IAC, echoed many of yesterday's speakers when he said, "The whole problem is, no one's in charge."

Smith and Hunter were criticized for a lack of vision regarding Tigers football and athletics in general. Charles Sponski, the parent of a player, pointed out that Smith was at Drake when that Iowa university dropped football in the 1970s.

Many complained about a lack of notice regarding what they consider a crisis. The general theme was voiced by Gene Nieberlein, an alumnus and the athletic director at Mount St. Joseph High. His son Karl is a freshman offensive tackle for the Tigers.

"If you're looking for help, why didn't you ask for it?" Nieberlein said. "The president is supposed to be able to handle these things. If I handled a [athletic] department on the high school level like this, I would have been gone a long time ago.

"The way this has been handled has driven one segment of the university against another segment of the university. The issue of raising the student athletic fee [from $270 to $370] as the only way of saving football sounds like a political move. I think it was deliberately done this way, and I'm appalled at a university trying to play these games."

Smith, who said Wednesday that he would "probably" endorse the proposal to suspend football if the University Senate passes it on to him, declined comment after the open forum. Hunter left before it was over.

George Friedman, an English professor who sits on the University Senate, was one speaker who defended the administration.

"On campus, there is a severe financial crunch," Friedman said. "At one time, we were told we had two weeks to give back a million dollars to the state. It boils down to the same old question: I would like to know how we are going to fund it."

When Towson State upgraded its football program to Division I-AA status in 1987, it had a fund-raising drive that netted $80,000 for scholarships. Blake said that the total raised for all Towson State athletics last year was $65,000.

"A total of 17 football alums contributed to the Tiger Club last year," Blake said. "I asked Vaughn Harman why he didn't make a contribution last year, and he said that he'll contribute support when the administration does."

Harman, who played for the Tigers in 1978-81, said apathy toward the program has spread.

"In 1984, I contributed $750 to football, but I haven't given since," Harman said. "The Tiger Club? It was like a joke. Unless you have the people at the top backing the program, why should you? I'm not saying we're not going to open up our checkbooks now, but I don't think individual contributors are the answer. You have to involve the corporate community."

Blake, who became Towson State's first full-time, salaried fund-raiser for athletics last year, said the largest corporate donation made in 1989-90 was $5,000, by Service America.

"This whole debate goes in circles," Blake said. "I go to businesses, and they ask me, 'Are the alumni giving?' I go to the alumni, and they want to know what the administration is doing. I go to the administration, they tell me to talk to businessmen."

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