Exclusive interview with University President regarding sports cuts
After several days of media blackout, University President Maravene Loeschke agreed to an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon with The Towerlight regarding her decision to discontinue the men’s soccer and baseball programs.
Her Chief of Staff Jennifer Gajewski, the Deputy Chief of Staff Marina Cooper, Interim Senior Director of University Marketing and Communications Josianne Pennington, Interim Vice President for Administration and Finance Mark Behm, University counsel Michael Anselmi and Student Government Association President Brandy Hall were also present. No representative from the athletics department was available to attend the meeting.
Editor’s Note: Because of the last-minute nature of the interview, The Towerlight could not fully investigate claims from
administrators or follow up with appropriate sources. Continue reading The Towerlight for ongoing coverage.
Respecting the players
Loeschke arrived at the field house at Johnny Unitas Stadium Friday, March 8 at 10 a.m. with a Towson University police detail in tow.
She gave a five-minute speech to members of the baseball team informing them that after nearly six months of deliberation, their program, and men’s soccer, would be cut. She then promptly left the field house without taking questions, athletes said.
Reports vary as to how many police were present at the announcement. Athletes have claimed upward of 15 escorted Loeschke, while administration maintained only four were present. Members of the baseball team said the move was just another in a long series of discourtesies from administration. Outside critics of the decision have focused on the administrations’ treatment of the players.
“I’m sorry they took it as an insult, it was certainly not intended to be that way,” Loeschke said. “It was just procedural security when a president is going somewhere to make a controversial announcement. It’s not just athletes, it’s anyone else who might wish to do harm.”
The meeting was the administration’s effort to ensure athletes would hear the announcement from the president face to face. Loeschke said she was concerned the information had leaked, and she wanted to meet with the athletes before other sources could inform players of the news.
Players received text messages from an unknown number they assumed was from a University representative, demanding they attend the meeting, even if they were in class.
“I wanted to stand before them and tell them myself, and I did that,” Loeshcke said. “We didn’t want to do it on game day, but we tried to do it close to the time before they would hear it from someone else.”
Loeschke had said she would make a final decision in mid-November, after the task force she commissioned to examine Director of Athletics Mike Waddell’s recommendations confirmed the cuts were the best option to save money for the athletics department.
Athletes have said the long delay has interfered with plans to possibly transfer to another institution.
“We’re playing for each other,” junior leftfielder Dominic Fratantuono said in an interview Saturday. “You’re playing for the guy next to you. Towson, the administration, Mike Waddell, the president, they don’t have our backs. They don’t respect us. They don’t want us.”
Loeschke said she postponed her decision because she wanted to closely review every option the task force presented to her, consulting with outside legal counsel and financial analysts along the way.
“It was a rock and hard place,” she said. “Either make the decision quickly though you’re not feeling too confident, and let them know what’s happening, or have it be dragged out to make absolutely certain. I chose to make absolutely certain.”
And while Loeschke said she did meet with representatives and players of both teams, she did not meet with Olszewski and Gottlieb, who felt alienated. Loechke claimed that because of Towson’s “human resources processes,” she could not meet with the coaches, both of whom have been in their positions since the ‘80s. Gajewski said that she did not alert Loeschke that the coaches even wanted to meet.
“I’m not involved in the hiring or firings of coaches—we followed the process of the University,” Loeschke said. Waddell took aside the coaches to deliver their termination notices while Loeschke gave her speech to the players.
Olszewski noticed the name on his form was spelled incorrectly.
“I’m disappointed in the way it played out,” Gottlieb said in a previous Towerlight article. “No one kept me abreast as to what was going on. I wish the communication level was better. I wish I knew the details.”
History of the cuts
For several years, long before Loeschke’s tenure, the University underwent a period of rapid growth and enrollment under former President Robert Caret. The athletics department began to account for this expansion, Loeschke said, by investing funds for strategic expansion of the sports teams and marketing.
Then the growth stopped, and enrollment was down.
“The brakes were put on,” Loeschke said. “You weren’t having that additional revenue come in.”
Discussions that there may be foreseeable fiscal troubles, and a potential problem complying with Title IX, federal legislation that guarantees opportunities for female athletes, began during the time of Mike Hermann, the former Director of Athletics.
“They were preliminary,” Hermann said. “They never reached the level of the president.”
Waddell took the helm in 2010 and made men’s basketball an institutional priority, which Loeschke said would create the most revenue for the athletics department.
From the fiscal year 2011-2012, Waddell added nearly $290,000 annually to the athletics budget with the creation of seven new positions in the department, three of which were basketball-related, according to a report from the athletics department.
Waddell also began investigating options to correct Title IX compliance and other methods of generating revenue. He appointed the Black and Gold task force to explore these issues.
Two weeks after her appointment, Loeschke said she was brought up to speed and learned about the problem, but the official recommendation to cut the programs was not made until October 2012.
Accusations that Waddell mismanaged the budget, resulting in the cuts, have been brought up in meetings with the task force and on social media platforms.
Loeschke denied this allegation.
“Mike Waddell has my confidence,” Loeschke said. “He’s the Athletic Director, he can make any decisions he thinks are in the best interest as long as I’m informed.”
Aside from the looming financial worries, the University could not maintain its current method of complying with Title IX, according to Loeschke.
Universities can comply with Title IX in three ways: administration can match female athletes equal to the percentage of women on campus, add women’s sports, or conduct a survey to see if female athletes are satisfied with opportunities available.
Typically, the University would add a woman’s sports every five years, but a 2010 legal case prohibited them from complying with Title IX this way if they had cut a woman’s sport in the past. The University cut women’s track in the ‘90s.
“We chose the safe harbor method, which was substantial proportionality,” Anselmi said.
While no formal Title IX complaint has been filed against the University, Anselmi said officials wanted to quiet some anonymous rumblings they were hearing.
“There have been over the years complaints about the treatment [of female athletes],” he said. “Treatment, not in terms of accommodating interests. Facilities being different, facilities not being adequate for women. Our Title IX report indicates there is a significant problem with facilities for women, particularly the softball field.”
The Towerlight did not view this report.
Towson has renovated facilities throughout the fiscal year 2011-2012, including soccer field repair, gymnastics room updates and overhauling locker rooms.
“The athletic programs for men are not equal to those for women,” Loeschke said, “And they should be in the range required by the federal law. I feel that we have a responsibility to serve our female athletes to what they are entitled to.”
Loeschke stressed that she would never solve the fiscal troubles of the athletic department by inflating athletic fees, though the task force did present her that option to save the two programs. Towson charges the second highest athletic fee in the University system.
“I was not willing to solve this problem on the backs of the student fees,” she said.
Fostering a sense of transparency
Students, parents and athletic supporters who wished to provide input to the task force and Loeschke have said the process has been impaired by a lack of transparency.
Administration said they upheld a strong channel of communication by publishing weekly online updates from the task force updates, as well as holding public forums between the task force and proponents of the teams.
The task force accepted proposals at these meetings and electronically. Loeschke has maintained the task force reviewed every possible option, and eventually they found 13 major options emerged.
“It is inaccurate to assume they weren’t dealing with the feedback,” Loeschke said. “There was not an option that was put forward that was not looked at.”
One member of the baseball team, Zach Fisher, said he was disappointed with the task force’s response when he submitted an alternative proposition that proposed downsizing roster sizes.
“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 in a previous Towerlight article. “They didn’t really give much feedback and I didn’t hear much after the meeting I had with them.”
Hall said that the task force did not reply to those who submitted these proposals because they wanted to avoid influence from outside parties, and Loeschke said she encouraged the task force to remain confidential in its proceedings and to not share specific facts and figures.
But some have alleged discrepancies are present in these reports.
Mike Gill, a Towson donor, asserted in the Baltimore Sun that the numbers the task force provided changed over the course of the task force’s investigation.
In November, the task force identified an error in the roster count that duplicated the amount of athletes in indoor and outdoor track. Loeschke acknowledged this mistake and said it did not impact the outcome.
There should only be minor discrepancies between the report published by the task force and the final report published Friday, Loeschke said.
Athletics budgets supplied to the Towerlight show inconsistencies.
A budget from Cooper shows the athletics department earned about $16 million in revenue, while an online annual report the department earned $20 million, around a $4 million difference.
Behm explained the differences in the budgets saying that the annual report is prepared for the NCAA, which counts scholarships differently while the University uses other figures. The task force worked with these “internal calculations.”
“I think you have to take a step back and ask who is the audience,” he said. “If I were to put something together that everyone would understand, that’s fine, but that’s not the purpose.”
For the future
Loeschke said she will not reverse her decision, nor she said are there plans to reinstate either team.
Placing a program in a different league was the solution at Mansfield University, where Loeschke was formerly president. She elected to cut football, a relatively large program that she said did not have proper financial or competitive backing. The team was replaced two years later with a smaller program that now plays in a different league.
Towson, a Division I school, may play one sport in Division III, however, its place in the Colonial Athletic Association prevents that.
Loeschke said she does not know whether her decision to cut football at Mansfield influences the campus or outside perception of her, but she said that she did not come to Towson to slash athletics. She said response from alumni, long-standing supporters and donors have been coming in with mixed reaction.
“I’d say they’re fairly even,” she said.
Loeschke said prominent donor and Atlanta Braves owner John Schuerholz, for which the baseball park is named, is already discussing where to move his name on campus. She said she does not know what will become of the park.
Loeschke especially stressed that the decision to cut the sports was not foregoing.
“If that was the case, I would have made the decision right there in October,” she said.