The third installment of "A Conversation with (Director of Athletics) Mike Waddell" continues with discussions about football and women's gymnastics.
The women's gymnastics team, led by head coach Vicki Chliszczyk, is headed towards its final season in the Towson Center. The Tigers are also making a major change before they move into the new "Tiger Arena". In 2013, they will re-join the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL), moving over from the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).
Towson was a member of the EAGL from 1996 to 2004. After the 2004 season, Towson left the EAGL to join the ECAC. In eight seasons of ECAC competition, the Tigers won six championships.
"Vicki has been with me both seasons I've been here," said Waddell. "She was an excellent choice who wants to see this program go back to where it was. The ECAC future was always whether teams were going to have scholarships or weren't. It didn't lead to a recruiting advantage the way that Vicki thought like the EAGL would. We are going to put an enhanced eye back on gymnastics."
Waddell feels that women's gymnastics is a sport, considering its past and current success, that could be a major draw in the new "Tiger Arena".
"We only charge admission for six sports at Towson," he said. "We need to fund and get behind (those sports) as much as possible. We want to see gymnastics become one of the top draws at Towson.
"If you look back at our history, there's no reason why we can't draw 3,000 or more at a gymnastics meet," Waddell continued. "That's a revenue opportunity for us and also a branding opportunity within the Baltimore region. Dick and Lynda (Filbert) did a remarkable job building this highly successful program and we want to make sure we provide Vicky with those same opportunities and the chance to take it even higher as we move into the new Tiger Arena. Nobody else has a gymnastics program within an hour's drive of Baltimore. This is an opportunity to push something out there that is unique to Towson."
We are now just a couple of weeks away from the football team's opener against Kent State on the road (Aug. 30) and less than a month away from the home opener against William & Mary (Sept. 15). Last season, Towson won the CAA Championship, embarking on one of the greatest turnarounds in FCS history as the Tigers went from 1-10 to 9-3. Towson will try and duplicate last year's feat by attempting to make a long playoff run this year, but the schedule will be tougher and expectations will be high.
"Before the season, I talked to (head football coach) Rob (Ambrose) about this season," said Waddell. "Neither one of us expected last year's success. We thought what we enjoyed in 2011 would happen in 2014. We were laying the foundation. We are doing things the right way and improving, and paying attention to the little details. That's when winning comes.
"You don't want to be a one-hit wonder," Waddell continued. "You don't want to be Milli Vanilli, you want to be the Beatles - a consistent winner. We were picked first this year and last (in 2011). Who cares? It's completely worthless and has no meaning. It all comes down to who works harder in the offseason."
Towson set records for attendance in 2011 during a season when expectations were low at the start. Now that expectations are high and the team returns most of their starters, the sky is the limit when it comes to attendance. There are five home games this year and under Waddell and his staff, each contest has become more than a game; it's an event.
"Just because it worked last year, on the field and off, doesn't mean it's going to work again this year," said Waddell. "We've looked at every aspect of what we do on gamedays. We had some really strong feedback from people last year from what we liked and what they didn't like. We'll work to enhance what they liked, and correct what they didn't. We want to make it fun for people to come to games."
Towson also plays three night games this year, along with a 3:30 p.m. finale against Rhode Island and a 12 p.m. start against William & Mary, which will be broadcast nationally on the NBC Sports Network.
"People don't want to play night games at Unitas Stadium," said Waddell. "The three schools that are playing us at night are not happy about it. Why do we play at night? Because it's the best home field advantage in the CAA. Our students are great. There's a different environment at night. We make it loud. Once you get some wins under your belt, that helps more than anything. We are going to hit some ticket milestones this year that we have not hit in the past so we'll wait and see what those numbers are."
Winning cures a lot of things. It's helped contribute to a home field advantage that has a chance to grow and become not only the best in the CAA, but one of the best in Football Championship Subdivision.
"Our game atmosphere last year was pretty good," said Waddell. "We'll do some different things with the band in pre-game and with some music during the game. We are going to do some things at the parking lot before the game. Our campus has never been pushed in terms of expanding tailgate areas. We want to see how that translates. We are ready to work with campus officials in terms of tailgate areas."
Unitas Stadium seats a little over 11,000 people and if the team continues winning, they'll start filling that stadium on a regular basis. Talks of enclosing the stadium started pretty much as soon as it was renovated in 2001. But there was never a need to even make the stadium look like a horseshoe.
"One of things we always get asked about is are you ready to expand Unitas Stadium?," said Waddell. "No, we are not going to add additional seats for Unitas Stadium. There hasn't been the need to do that yet. We have serious issues with the fire code. Those are hard things in terms of entries and exits that might seem easy to correct, but they are not. We can plan for things and push things. If the advance sales get to the point where we can adjust, we will adjust. Our long-term or short-term playoff future could include (M&T Bank Stadium).
"Last year, we were supposed to host a first and second-round playoff game," Waddell continued. "Our bid was well north of $125,000 (combined bids). That's a big guarantee and close to six figures for the second-round game. Even if we add 1-2,000 temporary seats at Unitas Stadium, you don't come close to covering those costs. We would have to move to M&T Bank Stadium to host a third-round game. We talked with Ravens management and they are open to working with us. We spent a great deal of time in the last 22 months in terms of building relationships with the power brokers that can make something like that happen on short notice.
"We can make that call in October," Waddell continued. "When we have to turn in those bids in November, you have to do that not knowing if we are in the playoffs. Our goal is to make it back to the playoffs, and make a difference if we get there. Football is a defining element of what our campus is. We went through the Save Towson Football era (1990) and it was established that football was an important cultural element at Towson. More people came to our football games when we were 1-10 that came to all of our other sports combined. Football does something that binds the campus together that no other sport does. It's going to be essential that basketball starts to gain some momentum and draw some crowds."
Like many Towson fans, Waddell can't wait for the football season to start on Aug. 30 and the home opener on Sept. 15.
"We have some things cooked up for the William & Mary game," said Waddell. "We are going to rock people up and get people out. There are going to be things done for football recruits that have never been done. It's going to be a great show. It's a tribute to what Doc Minnegan created. Towson's football tradition didn't start in 2011, it started in 1969. We are the only team to make the playoffs in all three levels (DIII, DII, DI). I got particularly annoyed last year when I saw young people say that Doc Minnegan was our mascot. The guy was a leader. We will have the first-ever Minnegan Day on Sept. 4. We have pride in the past and you have to focus on the positives."