Towson University — football factory?

School is acting like athletics trumps everything else

April 16, 2012|By Paul Marx

Twelve years ago, I moved to Towson from New Haven upon my marriage to a lovely woman, Baltimore born and bred. I happily settled into my wife's condo right in the center of town.

The apartment on the 23rd floor faces south and west and has terrific views. On a clear night, I can see all the way to lit-up Camden Yards. I can watch an Orioles game on TV, and get up and look out at the lights of the stadium.

Living in the center of Towson has great advantages. Everything you need is only a short walk away: the bank, the post office, the library, the dry cleaners, the copy shop, even Trader Joe's. Towson University is just a few blocks to the south — but TU has turned out to be a problem.

In 2002, the university began to use its new stadium, named after the Colts greatJohnny Unitas. Unitas Stadium has never-muddy artificial turf and four banks of lights. It is used by men's and women's teams day and night. As a sports fan, at first I thought that was a very good thing.

From the apartment windows, the lights at Unitas Stadium can't be missed. It took a while, but I began to notice that the lights were on even during the afternoon as the sun shone brightly. The lights were also on at 5 in the morning and often stayed on well into daylight. Recently, I was out of bed at 4 a.m. and the lights were on.

We're in a recession; state budgets are being cut drastically; and keeping tuitions at state schools reasonable is an ongoing battle. Yet Towson University wastes money by running four banks of lights when lighting is not needed. I've protested to the university president, but the lights still come on well before sunset and in the mornings remain on well after sunrise.

But there's also another reason I'm angry with TU: the 5 a. m. football practices. As someone who has taught athletes, I know what a great intrusion into the lives of the players such early morning practices are. Members of the team have to roll out of bed well before 5 a.m. to get to practice. In the classroom, they struggle to stay awake. Students who doze in class demoralize both the other students and the instructor.

The much-reviled National Collegiate Athletic Association insists that members of college athletic teams are student-athletes and should participate fully in campus life. Football started out as an extra-curricular activity. Students engaged in football after their classes. Now it is the other way round; football players go to classes after practices.

In addition to missing sleep, players miss out on important aspects of campus life, like bull sessions. The best time for studying for many students is between 9 p.m. and midnight. If they're not going to be sleep-deprived, football players would need to be in bed by 10 p.m. at the latest. Who would believe that this could be the usual bedtime for high-testosterone males between 18 and 22?

Towson University, playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, is not anywhere near being a football factory. It goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure its athletes stay academically eligible. Towson even brags about the high academic performance of its athletes, although that is due mostly to its female athletes, who tend to take their studies much more seriously.

After several losing seasons, Towson hired a new football coach. He introduced the 5 a.m. routine, and the team went 9-3 last season. Cause and effect? Who knows. In any case, the 5 a.m. practices are detrimental to education. What's also detrimental is TU's blind eye to its immensely wasteful use of stadium lights while the sun shines. Is TU teaching its students that electricity is free?

Paul Marx, a Towson resident, is professor emeritus at the University of New Haven. His email is pppmarx@comcast.net.

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