Tired of going it alone, TSU alums giving up fund-raising fight

November 01, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

The calendar says 1991, but it sounds like 1990.

A year ago today, an open forum at Towson State found supporters of football denouncing president Hoke L. Smith and athletic director Bill Hunter for a proposal that would dismantle a program the critics said received little support in the first place.

Hoping to save football were a handful of members of the Football Alumni Association, formed last year to raise funds for scholarships that would help Towson State be more competitive in Division I-AA. They're still critical of the administration's fund-raising and promotion efforts, but at the same time they're pulling the plug on their own drive.

"Our fund-raising effort is on hold," said Jim Holdridge, who began coordinating fund-raising among football alumni a year ago. "In good conscience, we can't ask people to contribute to a program when we don't know where it's going. We still want to help, but what has the administration done?"

The abandonment of plans to raise over $200,000 annually in the corporate community and fund more than 20 football scholarships is in response to what Holdridge says is a continued lack of support for football from the administration.

It is the latest in recent developments affecting coach Phil Albert's Tigers.

* Smith declined to speculate on Towson State's football future beyond 1992, but Hunter said, "Our president has already told our people that if Division I-AAA becomes a reality, it's the direction we'll go."

* Hunter admits that Towson State isn't doing enough to promote its teams, but said he will continue to pump available funds elsewhere during a time of severe state budget cuts. So far, the university has lost $3,548,000 in state funds for fiscal year 1992.

* Fund-raising hasn't kept pace with on-field accomplishments -- between $90,000 and $100,000 was raised for Tiger athletics in fiscal 1991 -- but that's a problem not restricted to sports. The university's general fund drive netted $165,000 this past year.

Adding irony to this week's forgettable anniversary is tomorrow's (1 p.m.) homecoming game against Hofstra at Minnegan Stadium.

The Flying Dutchmen (6-1) reached the semifinals of the NCAA Division III tournament in 1990. Then the NCAA prohibited Division I schools from playing football at that level, so Hofstra immediately moved to I-AA.

Nothing has been that quick and easy at Towson State. The Tigers (0-7) have been wrestling with their membership in I-AA since upgrading in 1987, and the school is committed to that level only through next season.

"Alumni look at a possible move to I-AAA as a step backward," Hunter said. "They saw us contend for a national championship at Division III, II, and the next step is I-AA, but we don't have the wherewithal to get to that place and maintain the other programs that are successful."

The Tigers' athletic budget for 1991-92 is $3.2 million, the bulk of that coming from student fees, which this year were raised from $270 to $310. Slightly more than $800,000 is for scholarships, and $338,000 of that goes to football. Football's operating budget is approximately $800,000.

A year ago, dropping football was proposed as a means of dealing with a $257,000 budget deficit in the athletic department and increasing demands in sports sponsorship from the NCAA.

The Football Alumni Association was one reason the University Senate voted down a motion to suspend football last Dec. 3. The association's plan was to bridge the gap between the athletic department's 40 scholarships and the NCAA I-AA limit of 70. The NCAA limit will drop to 63 in 1992. A full scholarship at Towson State costs an average of about $8,000 this year.

Since last November, the alumni group has received $41,530 in contributions from 313 parties, and another $29,000 in pledges. But now that fund-raising is on hold. Jim Sandusky, a member of the football alumni group, said the university is relying too much on volunteers.

"We appreciate the budget restraints the athletic department faces, but there is no creativity to get around them," Sandusky said. "The product obviously is there to be marketed."

Last June, Towson State reached the NCAA lacrosse final. The men's basketball program has gone to the last two NCAA tournaments, and is rated among the upper third in Division I. Baseball has gone to the NCAAs twice in the last four seasons, women's gymnastics is a top 20 program, and soccer is establishing a regional identity.

"I wish we had more members, but it's not the volunteers' fault," said Scott Hargest, president of the Tiger Club, which raises money for athletics. "You're talking about a tradition of teachers coming through

here up until the late 1970s, and a lot of our alumni aren't in position to give. Towson State's endowment is unbelievable compared to some other colleges in the area."

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, Towson State's endowment is $934,597. For perspective, Johns Hopkins' is $560,477,544.

Away from the off-field maneuvering, the often-overmatched football team has gone 4-24 since 1989. Albert said the situation isn't as bad as it was a year ago.

"We don't have all of that speculation about being dropped," Albert said. "That really drains you as a team. A few of us on the inside know we're making progress."

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