Football was dangling by a thread. As a cruel fact of financial life, Towson State University couldn't afford the overhead. The sport had become too much of a luxury, and the university president had to consider abandoning the program to free the athletic budget of its most costly expenditure.
With some indignation and intense pride, a strong element of the alumni, along with present and former football players, reacted against any such extermination. Excitement suddenly replaced apathy. There was a concerted move to preserve football, and those devoted to the cause said they were willing to help pay the price.
Promises were made in the heated emotions of the moment. The football alumni within the scope of the Tiger Club, the university's athletic fund-raising organization, began a campaign that resulted in $70,000 in pledges and contributions. Half of that has been collected and, with another six months remaining, there is a chance the commitment will be met.
A banquet, labeled a "Gridiron Gala," earlier this week raised more than $10,000 for football scholarships. But apart from the encouraging fiscal report, the event served to rally support, as never before, on behalf of football. It's looking better all the time.
At the banquet, coach Phil Albert was elated. One of his former players, Gerry Sandusky, now a WBAL-TV sportscaster, served as master of ceremonies and focused on the importance of continuing football. Albert hit upon the most vital aspect of Towson State's chance to keep the sport alive.
"Some seeds have been planted," Albert said. "They need to germinate and be cultivated. But it is essential for all of you to become familiar with our football program if you are to identify with us. Identification is critical to our success. This has been the missing link in the 20 years I have been here."
It's encouraging to note that of the 45 returning members of the varsity (only seven are seniors), not one has attempted to transfer to a school where football is not fighting to survive the pressure of economics. This is indeed a compliment to Towson and to Albert.
Dr. Hoke Smith, president of the university, made his message clear and concise. "I don't mean to be gloomy," he said. "But we
have to look at the reality we face. Football is an expensive sport and an important part of American life. There's a long, proud tradition and there is student interest in football. This is not a one-shot event; it has to continue if we're to build the football program."
So Hoke didn't joke. He put the issue in perspective. He had to be pleased with the show of enthusiasm, including the presence of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The efforts of Jim Holdridge and Jim Sandusky, two former players, along with the Tiger Club, in staging the gala were applauded. But unless you want to deceive yourself, it'll be an ongoing battle to keep the spirit alive and the money coming to retain football.
Steve Blake, executive director of the Tiger Club, talked of what it was like last November when football was holding on for dear life. "Put it this way," he said. "We were in intensive care." For now, he sees positive signs all around and has no doubt the drive to keep the game on the varsity level in Division I-AA has gotten serious attention and positive reaction.
With Albert as coach, Towson has dominated at two lower levels of play, Division II and Division III, in the past two decades. It also won three Lambert Cups, emblematic of its dominance as a young Eastern power. So no apologies need to be made for what has been accomplished.
The 1991 schedule offers diversity but difficulty, too, as Towson competes with Boston University, Rhode Island, Delaware State, James Madison, Liberty, Hofstra, Youngstown State and others of similar respectability. Football's future at the school is temporarily secure. So winning, since it begets alumni and booster club contributions, is more important than ever.