Towson baseball gets the governor swinging

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The women’s softball team survived, while men’s baseball was being cut.

Who got to Gov. O’Malley about the Towson University baseball program?

Governors typically don’t meddle in university sports programs, but when Towson University President Maravene Loeschke announced she was shutting down the school’s baseball and men’s soccer teams, O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot withheld funding for a Towson project two weeks ago and called Loeschke on the carpet.

Then on Monday, O’Malley submitted a supplemental budget that included $300,000 to keep the men’s baseball program alive. This was particularly unusual since taxpayer dollars are not supposed to be used for athletic programs at public colleges and universities. These teams are supposed to be self-supporting.

The staff of the Department of Legislative Services recommended to the Senate and House budget committees Tuesday that they not approve the “precedent-setting” grant, but instead make it a five-year loan to be repaid by the university.

Towson baseball clearly has connections in high places. University of Maryland College Park President Wallace Loh eliminated far more athletic programs with far less fuss at the State House. But this may reflect the longer, more painful and apparently more open process at College Park, including a period that gave the eliminated teams time to raise funds to keep their programs going.

Given the low visibility of university baseball programs, it still makes you wonder who had enough clout not only to get the governor involved, but to get him to propose using general fund dollars to save a sports program.

–Len Lazarick