Wednesday, March 30, 2011
VCU's Success Shines Light on Towson University's Failures
The Final Four in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament awaits us. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) from the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAC) beat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas, all major conference teams, some considered national powerhouses to get there. George Mason, whose run to the Final Four elevated the CAC and mid-major conferences to a new, high degree of prestige won their first round challenge then were eliminated by #1 seed, Ohio State. Old Dominion also made the field as a #9 seed losing to Butler, a Final Four team, a #8 seed.
The implication is clear; the Colonial Athletic Conference is poised to be a major competitor in NCAA Men’s Basketball, but not for Towson University, Maryland’s second largest state university close to the same size as George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth. In the new millennium, Towson athletics is a study in failure aside from lacrosse where they’re hardly knocking down any walls. While fielding a competitive football program is a huge investment mindful that this conference contributed Joe Flacco from University of Delaware, quality basketball should be within Towson’s reach. How many other states’ second largest schools or schools with much smaller enrollments thrive in NCAA basketball?
The Towson Tigers did not win a single conference game this past season. Their record was 4-26 overall trailing William and Mary 4-14, 10-22 overall showing Towson pitifully buried in the cellar.
2009-2010 8th, 6-12, 10-21 overall
2008-2009 10th, 5-13, 12-22 overall
2007-2008 9th, 7-11, 13-18 overall
Coach Pat Kennedy quit at season’s end after having been sought to be a leader who could advance the team to greater heights when hired for the 2004 season. Kennedy’s biggest contribution was stewarding Florida State into the ACC, coaching there from 1986-1997 with a total 202-131 record, much of it in the highly competitive ACC. Since then, his success hard to find, struggling at DePaul, a solid Big East team from 1997-2002, 67-85, and then Montana, a weak program, 2002-2004, 23-35 record.
The women’s program is not much better for this past season, a 3-14 conference record and 9-21 overall result.
A snapshot of their football program shows a team with only one win, not in conference for the 2010 season. What can be said of one program can be said of the other. Even in lacrosse which had once been a Towson stronghold, they’re buried far from tournament shape, with a 7-8 record.
Towson University is capable of being a competitive team in basketball and one of the nation’s top programs in lacrosse. Looking at the mother ship, University of Maryland, College Park whose football and basketball programs have struggled in recent years, certainly both schools’ struggles surely points to commitment at the highest level of the state university system. Since Maryland’s winning the National Championship in basketball, 2002, they’d reach the Sweet 16 the following year having never advanced past the tournament’s second round since. Of those nine seasons, Maryland made five NCCA appearances, three NIT appearances with little distinction. Their high points were winning the ACC tournament in 2004 and being the regular season champ in 2010. The 2010-2011 season marks a horrible embarrassment for the program not even achieving an NIT invitation after a late season total collapse.
In football, the Ralph Friedgen era began with great hopes for the 2001 season leaping out of the long run of mediocrity winning the ACC championship to reach the Orange Bowl. The following year, 2002, Maryland smashed Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. Since then, Maryland has made its share of lesser bowls but certainly has fallen below expectations.
In the Maryland system, College Park rules and the rest of the campuses are at each other’s throats for what remains. This is especially true in Division One athletics. The Baltimore area has five universities, four which participate in basketball, football far more limited. Towson, Morgan State, Coppin State, and UMBC are all Division One for basketball. Only Towson and Morgan field football teams, but UMBC boasts a dynasty in chess!
Additionally, these schools compete with Loyola Baltimore, a strong MEAC team coached by popular former Gary Williams’ assistant, Jimmy Patsos. The Washington DC area adds Georgetown, American University, George Mason, and George Washington University all competing for local talent with Philadelphia only 100 miles up I-95 to the northeast.
The Baltimore-Washington area is fertile ground for top basketball prospects scouted by top schools nationwide. With significant competition for talent, building a first rate program represents tremendous dedication, but the Baltimore-Washington area is not unique and certainly a state’s second largest university deserves far more commitment than state leadership affords a superb university whose story would be much better known nationwide if it had an athletics program that made headlines.
Today, the reputation of Maryland sports is poor. College Park dumped Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams’ is dealing with his greatest disgrace during his distinguished tenure at College Park. While #1 gets the bulk of the attention, #2 is a cruel joke that shows nothing to be proud of in basketball and football. They’re an embarrassment, but since Towson seldom has gotten much attention for long standing mediocrity, few notice. Still, they were worthy of a limited radio schedule for the 2009-2010 schedule on Baltimore’s flamethrower AM radio station, WBAL.
Located in the affluent Towson/Northern Baltimore County area, Towson could be a fabulous cite for top sports. Plans move forward for a new arena, a must to be on the same level as George Mason and other CAC schools. We anxiously wait to see who is named the next coach and if they find a proven motivator who can build a program from nothing.
No doubt, many will say how can schools afford to upgrade athletic programs when funds are scarce; the economy is bad, and all the usual excuses. Good sports programs, particularly basketball can bring economic benefits to their schools. That a school is seen as a top athletic school where kids would want to wear school jerseys and colors not only helps the school enjoy some marketing funds but also stirs up a buzz that could attract more students to chose a school like Towson over other universities. Sports are one element of creating a stimulating quality college life.
Our message, while we want to see University of Maryland be a school mentioned in the same breath as University of North Carolina and Duke in basketball as they were at the turn of the century and their football team should be challenging for the ACC football title consistently, Towson University must become one of the jewels of the Colonial Athletic Conference. This is within Towson’s reach. Maryland has only one school in the conference while Virginia has five. Okay Virginia’s a larger state than Maryland but supporting Old Dominion, William & Mary, VCU, James Madison, and George Mason is a far more substantial commitment than what Maryland’s devoting to its schools.
Larger problems loom than simply the state’s academic operations that hurt athletics. Certainly, it’s hard to justify FIVE universities in the Baltimore area: Towson, Morgan State, Coppin State, University of Baltimore, and UMBC. Certainly, Towson and UMBC are thriving schools. Morgan deserves its standing as one of the nation’s top black universities, but certainly it would make sense to fold Coppin State within its structure as it would University of Baltimore into either Towson or University of Maryland. On the Eastern Shore Salisbury and University of Maryland, Eastern Shore are just 12 miles apart. Consolidating such resources makes sense. Greater focus could mean better athletic programs where schools like Salisbury and Frostburg could tear up their conferences. While St. Mary’s simply has never shown any interest in athletics and that’s fine, who knows what kind of sleeper Bowie State could be in Washington DC’s eastern suburbs.
It starts at the top. Bold thinking is required. Get University of Maryland where ESPN can’t avoid talking about them. Get Towson to where they’ll be there soon. Who knows what the rest of the system could produce if a spirit of winning sweeps the system?
Right now, it appears that try not to loose would be a step forward rather than the indifference the seems to emulate from Annapolis to the highest ranks of the University System, but the time it reaches the Athletic director’s level and coaching staffs, the damage is done.