Optimism Abounds as Titans Get Reprieve : Cal State Fullerton: President Gordon says the school can raise enough money to cover athletic department budget deficits and keep the football program afloat.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joy and optimism abounded Friday on the ninth floor of Langsdorf Hall, where Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon announced that the school would continue to field a Division I-A football team.

University, city and community officials, boosters, coaches and faculty members packed a small conference room and cheered when Titan Coach Gene Murphy was introduced.

"You didn't know I had that many relatives," Murphy quipped.

They listened as Gordon assured the media that the school could raise enough money to cover past and projected athletic department budget deficits, totaling $650,000, and keep the football program afloat.

Fullerton Mayor Chris Norby spoke of a special relationship between the city, the university and the community, and how the on-campus stadium that is under construction--with Orange County's only college football team playing in it--would help deepen that relationship.

Titan Athletic Director Ed Carroll said he was pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of the public outcry in reaction to last week's athletics council recommendation to the president that football be dropped because of state funding problems.

State Senator Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim), a Cal State Fullerton alumnus, applauded Gordon's decision.

"It's a happy day for those of us who have graduated from the university," Royce said. "We look forward to the sports complex and having a place to play."

It was all very upbeat, fun and encouraging for those on hand.

But across campus was a different scene.

There was no champagne flowing in the Titan Football House, where assistant coaches sat in a room with blank looks on their faces.

They saved the football program. That was good, the coaches agreed.

They appreciated the support football has received in the past week. Murphy, the 11-year Titan coach whose program has been trimmed to the point where it's as lean as turkey breast, deserves it, they said.

But now what?

When Murphy was told Jan. 24 that there would be no new scholarship funds available this year, he released six community college players from their letters of intent and told 18 players who had made oral commitments to Fullerton to check with other schools.

Murphy said he had "lost quite a few" recruits, but that some were still considering Fullerton. "The ones we're going to salvage are the ones who don't have many other offers," Murphy said.

Coaches were unsure Friday just how many scholarships would be available this year.

So the Titans must attempt to rebuild a 1-11 team without most of the players Murphy said were part of "one of my best recruiting classes ever" and with a schedule that includes games at Mississippi State, Texas Tech and Georgia.

"It's gonna be hard," said Mike Foster, who coaches defensive backs. "I like the commitment they made. It's better than no program at all. But we'll see what people's expectations of the program are."

With boosters pumping funds into the program--the Titan Athletic Foundation received pledges in excess of $100,000 this week--expectations will probably be high.

But with this past week of uncertainty and the lack of a long-term commitment to Division I-A football, more cracks have formed in the foundation of the Titan football program and could make recruiting--and winning--even more difficult.

Asked if the school could afford to make a long-term financial commitment to Division I-A football, Gordon said, "It's going to be up to the community to show the kind of support they've indicated, and we'll go from there."

Asked if this was a one-year commitment to football, Gordon replied, "Our plan now is to go year by year, but people making pledges so far have put forth funds for two years."

"I think this will hurt recruiting badly, because people figure they could cut football at any moment," said Terrence Sullivan, a freshman defensive back who attended the news conference. "They're not sure about it. I think some players will leave because they feel kind of shaky about it.

"A two-year commitment is better than nothing, but I feel bad for the freshmen in the program. In two years, they may have to go through this again. In the meantime, we're going to have to improve so people will know where their money is going."

Murphy said he isn't sure how this past week of limbo will affect recruiting, this year and in future years.

"It remains to be seen," Murphy said. "Nothing is written in granite, it's just a matter of us working hard and doing the right things. If you lose some kids, you lose some kids. You've got to keep going."

Murphy admitted that plenty of negative things are probably being said about Titan football because of its instability. In the cutthroat world of recruiting, coaches often resort to such tactics.

You can hear them now, talking to recruits: You're considering Fullerton? I thought you wanted to play football?

Will opposing coaches have a field day with Fullerton's off-again, on-again program?

"That's a fair evaluation of what's going to happen," Foster predicted. "It's going to be hard to sell our program."

But at least there is a program. Despite the negatives that Murphy and his staff will have to overcome in the coming months, plenty of good has come out of the past week.

The threat to drop football, called a "crisis situation" by several Fullerton athletic administrators, actually helped galvanize city and community support for the program.

At an emotion-packed Titan Athletic Foundation meeting Tuesday night, boosters came up with almost $100,000 in pledges to save football, and TAF Executive Director Walt Bowman said many people have called to offer financial support.

The University Advisory Board, the president's top advisory group that includes prominent community leaders, unanimously recommended keeping football.

Gordon said his decision to continue the sport "reflects the clear and strong support that has emerged during the past week.

"The community members with whom I've talked this week have provided convincing assurances of their willingness to give personally and to assume leadership roles in raising $650,000 for the coming year and an appropriate amount for 1992-93," Gordon added. "I am grateful for their stepping forward to keep Titan football alive."

The crisis also helped forge a new funding philosophy in the Titan athletic department. Instead of relying on state funds, Carroll said the department's top priority will be to tap the community for private funds.

The school has retained the services of Bob Sharp, a prominent Orange County professional fund-raiser, to direct the current campaign and the Titan Sports Complex campaign, and Fullerton City Councilman Richard Ackerman said he's confident $4 million can be raised in 18 months.

"There's so much uncertainty in state funding," Carroll said. "We want to control our own destiny instead of having the whims and woes of the state economy determine our budget."

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