Athletes bond over news of potential sports cuts

With a final verdict looming from President Maravene Loeschke on whether the men’s soccer and baseball programs will be cut for the 2012-13 season, many student-athletes are still looking for answers.

The decision, one that will be made in early to mid-November, is one that will drastically change the lives of many players, men’s soccer Co-Captain Daniel Grundei said.

“Me and all these other guys, especially the internationals, came here to play soccer,” Grundei, who came to Towson from Germany, said. “We left our home countries, we left our families, we left all that behind us to make a commitment to play soccer for Towson. Apparently the school doesn’t commit to us.”

Loeschke said she will meet with the affected teams Monday and Tuesday. Loeschke developed an athletics task force led by David Nievens, chair of the Towson board of visitors, who will report back to her after conducting budget research and hearing reaction from multiple campus constituents.

“I am reviewing the website comments, meeting with student athletes, and having informal discussions with students, alumni, supporters and others, while I am moving around campus as well as attending events for the Towson campus community,” Loeschke said in an email. “Beyond that, a knowledgeable and diverse task force has been formed. I’m going to let them review the decision thoroughly and look forward to their input, before a final recommendation is made.”

A representative from the task force could not be reached for comment.

As president of Mansfield University, Loeschke made the decision to cut Division II football, which she said has no impact on the decision at Towson.

Loeschke said that Waddell and the athletics department have been reviewing the situation for the past 18 months, prior to when Loeschke was named president.

The net savings from the program cuts would be an estimated $800,083 by the 2018 fiscal year, according to an executive summary on the Athletic Task Force website.

The complete budget for baseball and men’s soccer, including salaries, operations and scholarships, totals almost $900,000. A men’s tennis program, which would be implemented under the new plan, would only cost the department around $100,000 after a transition period of up to four years.

One of the largest misconceptions about the budget, Wadell said, is that the new Tiger Arena, the $68 million facility that will house the volleyball, gymnastics and both basketball teams, was funded through the department of athletics.

“That is paid through by bonds and there might be some things that we do through our stadium complex, our facilities account, that help finish that off and do some things to where maybe the construction budget went over a little bit. That was beyond anybody’s control,” he said. “But that building is owned by the University and by Events and Conference Services.”

The elimination of two men’s teams would shift more funds to the women’s programs, and would also increase the coaching staff of women’s cross country/track and field team, as well as swimming and diving.

Under the new projected budget, more funds would be funneled into almost every other athletic program except for men’s and women’s basketball, and more scholarships would be made available in every sport except for men’s basketball.

“Every one of our women’s sports will be fully scholarshipped and that’s never happened before at Towson,” Waddell said.

Towson athletics would continue the scholarship of every athlete affected by the cuts for four to five years, Waddell said, depending on when they graduate.

The largest expenditure within the almost $20 million of expenses are salaries and other compensations, which compose 37 percent of athletics costs, according to the 2010-2011 athletics department annual report.

Other costs include upgrades to six locker rooms in the Johnny Unitas stadium field house this August, according to a release on the Towson Athletics webpage. These renovations include wooden lockers, new carpet, televisions with audio/visual capabilities, a speaker system and built-in laundry bins. The annual report lists the expense of the men’s lacrosse locker room upgrade as $65,000.

Facility upgrades include new field turf, which cost $87,000, as well as the implementation of a new gymnastics platform, which cost $45,000.

All of these upgrades are paid for by sponsorship funds that have been specially set aside for facilities renovations and do not take away from the general athletics budget, Waddell said.

Waddell does not project any increase in student athletic fees, which account for 77 percent of the Athletics department revenue.

Towson is also currently not in compliance with Title IX, which the new plan would rectify. Title IX states that athletes must match the gender ratios on campus, which in Towson’s case, is 60 percent women, 40 percent men. For the 2012-13 season, Towson athletics held 53 percent in women’s athletics and 47 percent in men’s.

But athletes are not concerned about the business perspective, Men’s Soccer Head Coach Frank Olszewski said. His athletes are unnerved of the possibility that Loeschke will approve the recommendations.

“Obviously there’s anger, obviously there’s despair,” he said. “They came here and this was the American dream for some of the guys, and even the guys who are local, it was still an American dream because to be able to come to a renowned institution as Towson university and to be able to get a world-class education and to be able to do that when you can still continue in the sport that you’ve crafted and loved. Those things are the things, maybe not to everyone, but I’ve been in the world long enough to know that those are the dreams that those guys shape when they get here, there’s a lot of emotion.”

Waddell said he was impressed with how vocal student-athletes have been thus far and that if they want to make an impact on the decision process, the best thing to do is speak at the forums held by the task force.

“You can go and make your very articulate argument in front of the task force,” he said. “They’ll be meeting with just students in one of their forums. That’s a critical time for them and that’s a way that they’re going to be able to impact this process. They do have a fighting spirit and they’re competitors.”

Naysayers to the cuts have taken to social media. Facebook pages have been created in support of both teams.

Professional scouts, out-of-state athletes, parents, students and other members of the community have continued to post every day in several groups.

“From the football boys at Davidson College, keep pushing men. The community and many others are behind you,” one post reads in the group Save Towson Baseball. “We are bringing the noise and spreading the word in North Carolina. Save TU Baseball.”

Until given the opportunity to speak at the forums, athletes have taken to publically displaying their displeasure. The baseball and men’s soccer teams have taped over the Towson logos on their jerseys and written “family” instead.

“We were pretty frustrated because we know that we’re playing for a school, an institution that doesn’t want us,” Grundei said. “If they don’t want us, we don’t want to play for them. We figured we’d do it for the students that support us, for the baseball team, and for us especially. Family would be the best new motto for us.”

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