UMBC expands its athletes' horizons

Sports: Athletic Director Charles Brown helped make the decision to enlarge the fields of NCAA tournaments -- giving smaller schools like his a shot at a national title.

Howard At Play

August 22, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Charles Brown, who has been at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County since 1989, is the longest-tenured college athletic director in Maryland.

The Ellicott City resident, 59, has seen college sports from the viewpoints of a physical education major at Springfield College in Massachusetts, a decade-long wrestling coach at Hunter College and as an administrator at UMBC, where he recently started a wrestling club.

He has also served his profession at a national level, working on the National Collegiate Athletic Association's competition championship committee. He was on that committee when the NCAA expanded the fields for many tournaments, including to 64 teams in men's basketball. Brown backed the move, which has meant that midsized and smaller schools have better chances to qualify. That has meant national recognition in athletics for not only his school, but also many others of comparable size. Here, Brown talks about college sports today.

Question: What are your thoughts on the various NCAA tournaments and championships?

Brown: "From the viewpoint of a person who administers a midlevel Division I program, they fulfill the needs of the NCAA student-athletes.

"For many, many years, it was always the large conferences -- the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeast Conference, the Pacific 10 -- that created the vast majority of participants in NCAA post-season play.

"The last five years or so, every conference in almost every sport has had a chance to qualify their teams and, sometimes, individuals to postseason competition -- the term everyone uses, going to the big dance.

"Over the last five or six years, UMBC has won nearly 30 [Northeast] conference titles in sports ranging from tennis to softball to soccer, and [that] has enabled our athletes to go on to NCAA championship competition.

"We've been able to play some of the best teams in the country, which helps us in so many ways. We've played USC in volleyball, Texas A&M in tennis, soccer against Duke, baseball against East Carolina -- the list goes on, and we've had a lot of great experiences."

How do you feel about the state of the NCAA now?

"The NCAA has been very proactive in involving all 325 or so universities and, through their conference play, giving everyone an opportunity for sharing in a piece of the pie.

"As an illustration, the NCAA generates a tremendous amount of money from CBS [for] televising the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The money, approximately $500 million a year, is given back to its membership in many different ways.

"We get grants ... to support the academic programs. We also get grants for student-athletes for financial need. They will pay for dental work. They will pay for clothing. They will pay for supplies, all kinds of things that students who are poor can't normally get."

What are your thoughts about midlevel Division I programs, such as those like UMBC, becoming a bigger force in Division I sports?

"We've made strides through the years. Conference membership is very important. We've made a commitment to join a conference [America East], to join schools with larger budgets, bigger facilities and ... a greater commitment to [growing] by association with schools like Boston University and schools of that sort.

"It comes a little bit easier to recruit student-athletes who are looking for a higher level of experience. The new schools that we have joined with all have populations between 10,000 and 20,000 students and athletic budgets between $8 million and $14 million, and they have broad-based programs in 20 sports. We fit right in comfortably with that."

What makes a Division I athlete?

"It's a student-athlete who has the ability to train year-round, who can come into the university and compete on an equal level with other students who have been recruited, deal with the demands of travel, year-round training and academic pressures and still maintain a real positive attitude to what they're doing.

"Rarely does a Division I athlete participate in more than one sport. It's very, very difficult to compete in more than one sport. The commitment to that sport is very, very great. We do a lot of traveling. Student-athletes have to learn to deal with traveling.

"The more mature you are as an individual, the easier you'll be able to handle the pressures. Our graduation rates for athletes was 72 percent this past year, higher than the university's average."

UMBC gets a lot of out-of-state athletes. Are you trying to get more from Maryland?

"More than 50 percent of our student-athletes are from out of state. We have about 30 student-athletes who are from foreign countries.

"Kids from out of state are very excited about coming to school in the state of Maryland, and sometimes local athletes want to go far away from home. We'd love to get more local talent, and sometimes they look at other states. We are not a commuter school any more. We have commuter students, but we're a majority resident campus."

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