Towson administrators, ex-players divide over football division School would consider drop to proposed I-AAA

October 30, 1991|By Don Markus

It was incorrectly reported in yesterday's editions of The Sun that Towson State University would be able to offer scholarships only in men's and women's basketball if the school went to a proposed Division I-AAA in football. In fact, schools in Division I-AAA would be able to offer scholarships in all sports except football. Also, Billy Hunter has been athletic director at Towson State since 1984, not 1979 as reported.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The storm clouds are gathering again over the Towson State football program, nearly 11 months after the university senate voted down a proposal to drop the sport.

This time, the uncertainty has little to do with whether football will be played at Towson State, and everything to do with the level of football that will be played.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

According to those involved on both sides of the issue, this growing dispute is not quite the knockdown, no-holds-barred affair that the first one was. At least not yet, anyway.

On one side are cost-conscious university administrators who are considering an NCAA proposal that will reclassify schools such as Towson State with Division I-AAA status in football. The plan would allow the Tigers to remain Division I-A in men's and women's basketball, while offering scholarships on a need-only basis in other sports, including football.

On the other side are a group of ex-players who want Towson State to continue as a Division I-AA team and, if possible, return to its glory days of the early 1980s. They believe that going down to I-AAA would be the death knell for a program that is having enough trouble surviving.

"I think it's controversial among our football supporters," athletic director Bill Hunter said last week about the possibility of going Division I-AAA in football. "But we'll be taking a hard look at it."

"I have my concerns as to where they [administrators] want the school to go [in football]," said Jim Holdridge, a former player and the president of the school's football alumni association.

Holdridge expressed those concerns to university president Hoke Smith, Hunter and other officials at a two-hour campus meeting Oct. 18. Holdridge, former player Jimmy Sandusky and Jack Patterson, who represents the parents of current team members, shared their views.

Sandusky called the tone of the meeting "speculative," but Patterson said he believes Smith and Hunter are leaning toward a Division I-AAA classification if it is voted in during the NCAA's next general membership meeting, in early January.

"My closing comment to Dr. Smith last week was, I would hope they would handle this differently than they did the last time because it's going to hurt the team," said Patterson, whose son, Sean, is a sophomore tight end. "If it does pass in January, they have to put their cards on the table."

Patterson said he found out "by accident" that the school was considering dropping football last year. "They kept us in the dark until the very last minute," said Patterson, a former high school coach and athletic director in Frederick County.

Smith said last week that it would take awhile to sort things out, and that if the Division I-AAA legislation passes, "a decision would be made within a year." The earliest it would take effect is 1994, Smith said.

There are several factors to consider, Smith said. The biggest questions are this: If the proposal were to pass, which schools would fall into the Division I-AAA classification for football, and would Towson State want to play them?

But it also comes down to money. "As we have seen throughout the state, there are things one would like to do and things one can afford to do," said Smith.

The cost of running a Division I-AA program, successful or otherwise, would be immense compared with the shoestring approach expected for Division I-AAA. According to Division I-AA and Division III athletic directors, a fully funded I-AA program needs an operating budget of $1 million or more, while Division III teams can get by on $250,000 or less.

Whether Towson State will even have the Division I-AAA option available is a question. While the debate rages on, the Tigers suffer through another interminable season. About the only thing the two sides agree on is that the team's 0-7 record has nothing to with last year's fight to save the program.

Holdridge and Hunter are quick to say that no players left the team as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the Towson State's football future, and both remain supportive of the job being done by Albert.

"This season is kind of an anomaly," said Holdridge. "They had a strong recruiting year. We could have won the first two games. The fact is that we're a couple of players away from having a decent team. When things happened last year, a lot of people did rally behind the program. After we got through the senate vote, they left their financial support, but they've kind of disappeared from sight."

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