Playing the waiting game
For months, Zach Fisher has been waiting—waiting on an announcement from the Office of the President that would decide his future at Towson University. Fisher is the third baseman on Towson’s baseball team. Since Oct. 2, he and other players have kept their ears to the ground, hungry for information on the fate of his team that University President Maravene Loeschke revealed may be cut to maintain fiscal stability in the department.
Director of Athletics Mike Waddell originally made that recommendation, saying the measures to cut baseball and also men’s soccer would secure the department’s financial future as well as compliance with Title IX guidelines, which prohibit gender discrimination in institutes of higher education.
Loeschke’s announcement said she would make a final decision by mid-November, but has been quiet since the Athletics Task Force she appointed examined Waddell’s recommendation and announced its supported of the recommendations on Nov. 19.
The announcement spurred grassroots campaigns from members and supporters of the baseball and soccer programs.
A sign that read “#SaveTUbaseball” was seen in the crowd at Camden Yards during the Orioles playoff matchup against the Yankees. Colored chalk scribbled the same outcry on Towson’s campus. Twitter exploded with hundreds of messages of support to the cause.
Fisher, who was named to the District II 2012 All-Academic Team, has taken different measures to save the program.
After receiving Waddell’s proposal to eliminate both teams, he set to work and crunched numbers to devise an alternative plan that would still coincide with the athletic department’s goals of sustaining competitiveness and financial solvency, as well as adhering to Title IX’s requirements.
“On the morning they told us we might be cut, they told us they had a Title IX problem,” Fisher said. “I wanted to know why. I wanted to know the details.”
Towson must maintain a ratio of female athletes indicative to the female population of the school to comply with Title IX. Currently, Towson’s student population comprises 60 percent women, but only 53 percent of the athletes at Towson are female, which Waddell’s proposal would fix. However, in Waddell’s proposal, the women’s indoor and outdoor track teams were not classified as separate teams. Had they been, 50 additional female athletes would have been counted. As a result, the percentage of female athletes would be 57 percent. This error has since been taken into account by the Athletics Task Force.
Fisher said the problem can be fixed without cutting any teams. According to Fisher’s plan, just 28 men’s roster spots would need to be rescinded in order to achieve this, along with the expansion of 12 women’s spots.
“Just little cuts across the board,” Fisher said. “It’s not that complicated, so I’m just confused about what the Title IX issue really is.”
Fisher met with Loeschke and the athletics task force to show his findings, and proposed the cuts, which included eight baseball and seven football roster spots. This would drop the respected totals to 30 and 90, the latter matching the amount of rostered football players for New Hampshire this past season.
Fisher noted during the meeting that cutting the eight baseball spots would allow Towson to still afford scholarships to the program and could save the athletic department over $40,000. He also suggested the money saved could leave the program room to become more competitive if it were put toward building an indoor hitting facility.
Though he presented his findings in spreadsheet form and distributed it to the task force members and president, Fisher said he is unsure whether his argument hit home.
“They didn’t really look at it because I only had a 15-minute meeting with them to give them everything I had,” Fisher said. “They didn’t really give much feedback and I didn’t hear much after the meeting I had with them. I didn’t have a follow-up meeting or anything like that to see what they thought.”
The delay in the ruling presents a problem for Fisher and the rest of the baseball team who aren’t entering their final year. The season is slated to begin Feb. 15 and players fear there will not be enough time to make decisions for their future.
“I can’t move on with my life, none of us can,” right fielder Dominic Fratantuono said. “The worst part is I’ve only got one year left after this. I’m a junior. Who wants a guy for one year when they won’t know if I can come until maybe February, March or April? I can’t go make visits to schools during the season.”
Fisher noted that even the younger players on the roster aren’t having matters made easy for them.
“What’s more frustrating is there are some sophomores and freshmen that would like to know if it’s going to be cut or not so they can go to a junior college,” Fisher said. “If you’re a freshman, and it’s not looking like you are going to get a ton of playing time this year, it doesn’t benefit you at all to go against teams every weekend when you’re not playing.”
Though discussion and debate has dwindled since October’s announcement, the campus still awaits a final decision on the cuts. Over the past few months, Fratantuono said he still reflects on all the support he and the programs have received, the magnitude of which still leaves him in disbelief.
“You’ve been to our games,” Fratantuono said. “If it’s a nice sunny day, we get maybe a decent crowd, but people aren’t fighting for seats. The support was unreal. Then [one day], I’m walking through the mall with Fish, and a lady I’ve never seen before comes up to us and says ‘you guys play baseball, I really hope they save you guys. I hope they don’t cut you.’ Never seen that lady before in my life.”
But the issue remains and athletes and coaches are still waiting in limbo to find out which direction their lives are going to take.
The players said they have not only dealt with the pressure of excelling in classes in front of them, but must do so with the knowledge that it could potentially be for nothing if credits from certain classes don’t transfer to a new school.
Though they would like to see their program saved, a part of them just wants the process to be over and done.
“I got to a point where, in the first week of November … I was just like ‘I am just worn out. I am done,’” Fisher said. “It was tough to pay attention in class and stuff like that. It was just tough to really just do anything at that point.”
Fisher said there is a difficult decision to be made, and the President and Athletic Task Force taking time to consider all potential options isn’t lost on him, despite the toll it has taken on him and his teammates.
“When we went in there the first time, they were obviously having a hard time with it too,” Fisher said. “How do you tell 60 people you’re cutting their dream? At this point, I just want to know. Even if it’s through an email in January, at least some people can decide if they’re going to transfer.”
But it’s out of their hands now.
And if you were to walk past John B. Schuerholz Park, the site of many seemingly endless fights, including the dramatic climax to Towson’s 2012 baseball season, there would be the same silence in the dugouts and bleachers that there was back then. But unlike that calm Sunday afternoon that ended in a screaming, rejoicing pile of Towson players in the infield, there is hardly a sign of a catharsis, or even a brief respite to this new blanket of tension that has covered the campus for the past three-and-a-half months.
In this period of seemingly stagnant activity outside of closed doors, the minds of all those affected by this firsthand aren’t stagnant at all. In this rare time where people can take a break from powering through everyday battles and can instead shift focus toward assessment and reflection, Fratantuono is able to sum the experience up with one final remark.
“Just tell everybody ‘thank you.’”