Robbie Jackson is a 5-foot-8, 180-pound tailback who has led the Towson State football team in rushing the last two seasons. He totaled 1,245 yards in 1989 and '90, and next fall, as a senior, he's going to get the chance to break the school record of 1,876 yards set by Dan Ricker in 1987.
Three weeks ago, there was a roadblock to that goal, but Jackson and more than 80 other Tigers players got some very good news last night, when the college's University Senate voted down by a 12-6 margin a motion that would have suspended Towson State football.
"I'm not thinking about any records, I'm just excited that we'll be playing next year," Jackson said. "Every one of us had a feeling this was going to happen, but now, finally, I feel more secure."
Jackson, coach Phil Albert and the rest of the Tigers were confident about yesterday's University Senate meeting.
After receiving detailed plans regarding improved fund-raising and marketing from the Football Alumni Association headed by Jim Holdridge, the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee last month appeared to withdraw its motion to suspend football. After a half hour of parliamentary debate yesterday, however, the motion was raised again.
After another 90 minutes of debate, the University Senate voted against suspending football, with one abstention. Twelve faculty members were split evenly, but six students swung the vote in football's favor.
President Hoke L. Smith was in Florida making a presentation. In a Nov. 30 letter to Neil Gallagher, chairman of the University Senate, Smith said, "I think it would be best at this time not to provide any specific statement of how long we may keep the football program, but, rather, plan to continue it until circumstances indicate it should be evaluated."
The Football Alumni Association wanted a stronger statement in support of the program, but Holdridge said fund-raising plans would pick up because of the University Senate action.
"There's no magic in this plan," Holdridge said. "We're just going to tap into resources, and talk to people we haven't talked to in the past. This is not a one-year commitment. Pledges now total $46,000 to $50,000, but a lot of people had the attitude of wanting to wait and see."
The Football Alumni Association hopes to raise as much as $210,000 toward football scholarships in 1991. Albert's program will continue to receive from the athletic department $338,000, the equivalent of 43 to 45 scholarships, but inflation could make that worth 35 scholarships in 1994. The FAA plan, however, would increase the money going to football scholarships at a time when the NCAA plans to cut from 70 to 63 the number of scholarships allowed in Division I-AA.
Athletic director Bill Hunter first raised the option of dropping football as a means of dealing with an athletic department deficit that is projected to reach approximately $275,000 next year. Other budget plans will help alleviate the deficit, and Hunter said the FAA's plans could make football more competitive after four straight non-winning seasons.
"The program has been in existence for 22 years, and it was very successful in Division II and III," Hunter said. "It has struggled on the Division I-AA level because we haven't been able to give them the support they need. Football at any level, at any university, is a rallying point when the kids come back on campus in the fall, and I'm happy we've got it."
Hunter said he was appreciative of the work done by Holdridge, as is Jackson, the tailback who's in range of the school rushing record.
"All of the players appreciate the effort the alumni have given," Jackson said. "They have concerns of their own, but at a time when we felt no one else was in our corner, the alumni came through."
Albert brings back at least 18 starters from a young team that struggled to a 2-9 mark. They will begin 1991 with four straight home games, starting with a Sept. 14 game against Boston University. A more immediate concern for Albert is recruiting.
"It's affected the entire market," Albert said. "Most [high school] coaches are not apt to recommend a kid to attend a school that says it's thinking about dropping football. I would like a more positive verbal statement from the president's office on down.
"I am confident this isn't going to come up next October."