Will Towson Athletics Ever Go Big?
Take a look at the college athletics landscape around us; it’s going through constant changes and restructuring, isn’t it? The Power 5 conferences are slowly being reduced down to the power 2.5 with the Big 12 and ACC struggling to maintain relevancy and the Pac-12 being all but dead. Schools have moved up low-level division 1 (FCS for football) to higher level conferences (FBS) for copious financial benefits. It seems as if most schools are actively trying to improve their current and future situation(s).
Then there’s Towson.
Towson has a lengthy history as an institution, but lacks the depth or riches other universities do in athletics. When it comes to all-time records I took a look at the three major players on a national scale, football and men’s and women’s basketball, and one personal favorite, men’s lacrosse. The football team has a 52% winning percentage all time at 284-264-4. Juxtapose that with former CAA rival James Madison, who has a 62% winning percentage at 361-223-4 and that alone would be enough to see why the Dukes made the jump to the Sunbelt conference.
The men’s basketball team has a losing record of 565-740 (43%) and the women’s team is slightly better at 631-709 (47%). The men’s lacrosse team, the most successful of the four options I looked into, is 433-326 (57%) all time. I wouldn’t classify these are enticing enough to attract the attention of a conference on a bigger stage.
So What Keeps Towson From Achieving High-Level Athletic Success?
It’s a curious question when looking at everything Towson could have at its disposal. Two miles outside of Baltimore City limits, the University has an immeasurable amount of talent at its fingertips in its own backyard. The school has seen occasional flashes of greatness come through with players like long-time NBA guard Gary Neal, Terrence West (spent a little time in the NFL), Ryan Drenner and Zach Goodrich who have found great success in the Premier Lacrosse League. All players have come from the Baltimore and surrounding suburban areas of Maryland; so it’s not impossible to get talent in the door.
Could Towson’s location be a disadvantage though? Most universities are located in the middle of nowhere (see schools like Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, West Virginia, Penn State and many more). Very rarely do you find schools with a major metropolitan area surrounding the university (University of Maryland, USC, UCLA, UNLV and loosely Villanova are the first ones that came to mind). Now a school like Maryland has seen it’s share of high level successes over its history, but the vibe I get from people in the fanbase is that the school has always been capable of much, much more. Traditionally, schools that are located in smaller populated areas like Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee have seen more success.
On a more comparable level, look at JMU and the surrounding town of Harrisonburg. JMU basically is the town of Harrisonburg.
If I had to think of anything that would cause the location to get in the way is the lack of room for expansion. This can limit developments and improvements to facilities on campus solely due to a lack of space. Unless the university is able to get ahold of more commercial land within the city of Towson and use that to create new facilities without having to completely shut down their current operations.
Do Good Coaches Not Want To Coach in the Baltimore Area?
I’m sure some don’t want to, but those coaches are idiots. Ryan Odom is the only coach to ever take a 16-seed in March Madness and upset a 1-seed; he did that at UMBC.
Is it the Academic Standards?
In a word: no. Using the same example, UMBC is one of the top three academic institutes in the state next to UMD and Johns Hopkins. See my previous example about Ryan Odom and how that nullifies this question.
I love my alma mater, but Towson isn’t a bastion of academics when you boil it down to the hard facts. There shouldn’t be many, if any, hurdles to a student-athlete qualifying to get into the university. They won’t have to find creative ways around the system like an athletic and academic powerhouse like Notre Dame might have to.
Is it the gear?
Towson consistently has some of the best uniforms in all of college athletics… so no.
Is it the campus population?
Allow me a moment to go stereotypical male here: Towson’s population is majority female, which is a subtle benefit. For those who want to call me out on this I dare you to walk around Baton Rouge, Louisiana or Athens, Georgia and see what you think. I don’t like using it as a talking point, but there is some validity to it.
What could be a major detriment, and is something the university is trying to fix, is a majority of students live off-campus. This can take away from the culture of athletics and general culture on campus. I can’t say Towson is a “suitcase” campus similar to how a school like Kent State is, but it can be pretty tough when you know most of your potential fanbase isn’t going to be around on the weekends.
Speaking of Sports Culture…
Towson really doesn’t have one, and I have no idea how that can be fixed. Football games were infamous for 90% of the student section leaving games at halftime in order to go drink and party. The basketball arena, which is really nice for a school the size of Towson, is never packed. Other sports see even less support than that.
So will Towson Ever Make it Big?
Only if they start winning at a high level consistently. Schools like JMU were able to make the jump not because of a flash-in-the-pan type season or two, i.e. the Terrence West tenure, but because they were dominant for an extended period of time. Towson needs to find the right coaches that can attract the right talent, that stick around for a long time. Also, in the era of NIL it wouldn’t hurt if the university were able to produce more more big time alumni to help with the financial side of things.
Easier said than done, I know. But that’s the only way Towson has a chance to make it bigger than what it currently is. Any other path would keep the Tiger program on the same hamster wheel it has been on for several decades. If JMU can produce a well known public figure like Barstool’s PFT Commenter and a growing star at Barstool in Evan Bosanko, Towson should look to do the same.