Towson to cut teams

As the debate over allocation of state funds to save Towson University sports teams continues, major players in the conversation couldn’t help but draw comparisons to this university’s experience with financial insecurity and athletic cuts, which didn’t see the same state support.

Towson officials based their decision more on Title IX compliance than financial woes, they said. But critics of the decision called into question the fairness of the financial hand Gov. Martin O’ Malley extended to the college while offering no such help to this university in 2012, when officials announced they were cutting 7 sports teams to in an attempt to shrink mounting debt. Others pointed out, however, that university President Wallace Loh didn’t receive the same amount of backlash at the time, either.  

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke received harsh criticism in March over her decision to cut the university’s baseball and men’s soccer programs and again in April for failing to show up at a meeting with the state’s Board of Public Works to explain her decision. State Comptroller Peter Franchot called for her removal, saying she had misled the Towson athletes and “forfeited her claim on moral leadership.”

But shortly following Franchot’s claims, Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Baltimore County), whose jurisdiction includes Towson University, questioned why Loeschke was called to task for her decision when university President Wallace Loh made a similar move to cut seven varsity sports programs in 2012.

“I don’t understand what’s different bout the same decision and the same painful process that President Loeschke went through and yet the reaction from the comptroller is totally different,” Brochin said. “I’m missing something here.”

Eventually, Gov. Martin O’Malley allocated $300,000 of the state budget to extend the life of the Towson baseball program, but it still raised questions about the application of Title IX, a federal law that requires equal opportunity for both men’s and women’s sports in college athletics, among other provisions.

Schools in the University System of Maryland can’t accept state funds for their athletic programs, per the system’s Board of Regents policy. But O’Malley was able to offer the money by giving it to the university system, which then passed it onto Towson. To maintain fairness, the system pledged to donate matching $300,000 grants to Division I schools trying to maintain a Title IX-mandated balance in their athletic programs, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Joshua Thompson, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has been involved with lawsuits over the constitutionality of Title IX in the past, said men’s sports usually get the ax when schools have to stretch athletic budgets and adhere to federal law.

“Schools have two options when faced with a complaint that alleges that they are out of balance: They can increase opportunities for women by creating new sports for women … or they can cut men’s sports,” Thompson said. “When universities are faced with constrained budgets and finite resources … we don’t really see in great numbers that new sports are added for women or that more opportunities are necessarily generated.”

While Title IX may have come into play in Loeschke’s decision at Towson, the situation at this university mirrors that of many schools that decide to cut sports programs. It almost always comes down to a lack of financial resources, not an issue of federal compliance that spells doom for men’s sports programs, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer and senior director of advocacy for The Women’s Sports Foundation.

“When schools do have to cut a men’s program, it is inevitably — and both Maryland and Towson are prime examples of this — because of budgets, because they can not support the size of the athletic program that they would like to,” said Hogshead-Makar, who is also a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law.

Whether athletic cuts are born out of a need to comply with federal law or a lack of resources on the part of the athletic program, Brochin said O’Malley, university system chancellor Brit Kirwan and the Board of Regents should share more responsibility over the stability of athletics programs and their compliance with federal laws, and not leave it in the hands of university presidents to make these tough decisions.

He said this kind of a resolution could have stopped this university from cutting several sports programs in 2012.

“I think that the governor’s office should have been proactive and said, ‘Stop,’” Brochin said.

Budget woes could continue to grow so much that only the sports that bring in the most revenue, or lose the least, survive while all other programs fall to the wayside, which Brochin said is detrimental to the university as a whole.

“Why are football and basketball the end-all?” Brochin said.  “It just seems like we’ve just forgotten about all the other sports and all the kids who want to play these sports.”

“That’s not what university athletics is supposed to be about,” he said.