A task force composed of alumni and parents of current players has organized to solicit pledges to save the floundering Towson State University football program.
Pledges for the football scholarship fund will be sought during Towson's homecoming football game today against New Haven, then turned over to university president Hoke Smith.
"After the game, they'll [task force members] meet with Dr. Smith, and they plan to ask him to withhold a decision on the program for one year," said Steve Blake, executive director of the Tiger Club, the school's fund-raising organization.
"They want to have ample time to do some actual fund raising."
The task force is an outgrowth of Thursday's emotional open forum with the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee, which voted, 8-1, last week to suspend football.
The IAC's recommendation goes to the University Senate on Monday for its consideration. After the Senate votes, Smith will have the final say. He is expected to approve the recommendation.
Finding revenue to erase an athletic-department budget deficit is at the crux of the football program's survival. A proposal to increase by $100 the annual student fees, which fund 94 percent of the program, has met with widespread opposition.
"We talked about trying to lay a foundation after the forum," said Blake. "We don't feel we can go out in the corporate community until they [corporate officials] are sure we have parents and alumni with us.
"We have already tried the community, and they've told us, 'Don't come to us to contribute,' until they're sure of that support. They want percentages. And right now, it's currently less than 10 percent. Until we get that raised, I don't foresee a lot of corporate support."
Blake said that if the new group is given time, it will try to raise $355,000 or an amount equal to the cost of this year's football scholarships.
"That would pay for the education of the people on the field," he said, "but it is a large goal, especially for a group just starting out. Any amount, of course, would help."
One of the positive aspects of the current crisis is that the school's financial need has received public exposure, thus easing the Tiger Club's burden of finding supportive alumni.
"We have made every effort to contact a lot of people," said Blake. "But there were no current addresses. Even friends didn't have them. Now I think we're going to be much more successful.
"But the alumni program is only 3 years old, and the athletic fund raising is only 2 years old. They're still growing up when people seem to think they should be fully mature."
A university capital campaign seeking more than $5 million for improvements in facilities and in academic areas will not make the job of fund raising for athletics any easier in toughening economic times.
"But I would think with people as motivated as they [the task-force members] are, we have a chance," said Blake. "Football didn't create this problem, but it has never organized its alumni like soccer and lacrosse, for instance. Football did other things [dinners, bull roasts, a golf tournament] to raise money."
The unofficial leaders of the task force are Jack Patterson and Gene Nieberlein, who are parents of players, and alumni Jim Holdridge and Vaughn Harman.