COMMENTARY : No Point in Delaying Titan Football Decision

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To the list of distinguished nicknames for the Cal State Fullerton football team, a file that includes Cal State Disneyland and Cal State Under-Funded, comes this latest addition:

Cal State Norma Rae.

Yes, the Titan Teamsters have organized, and they were even considering going on strike next week.

Their demands are no different than those of folks on the assembly line carrying union cards. They want job security, better benefits and improved working conditions.

They want to know what's going to happen to the football program after this season, whether it will remain Division I-A, be downgraded to I-AA or dropped. They want to know how long their scholarships will be honored.

And they want to know right now, so they can begin making plans for the future.

They will meet Monday with the boss, university president Milton A. Gordon, to air their concerns.

Gordon has said he won't make a decision on football's fate until after this season. He's a man of his word and will not likely vacillate from his announced intentions.

But for the sake of the players, the football program and the school, he should.

Circumstances have changed since last spring, when Gordon stated firmly that he'll remain committed to Division I-A football through the 1992 season, and the time for a decision is now.

Why wait? What could happen between now and the end of this season that could possibly affect his decision?

The Titans have played three of their four home games and have a good idea of the amount of fan interest in the program and the caliber of the team at present funding levels. Neither is very strong. There's no end in sight to the state's budget crunch.

Is some sugar daddy going to donate $10 million to the athletic department and rescue it from its financial woes? Not likely.

Are the 1-4 Titans going to win the rest of their games, attract a standing-room only crowd for their last home game and garner a bowl berth, thus affirming their status as a legitimate Division I-A team? Not likely.

One reason Gordon wanted to hold off his decision until after the season was that he didn't want it to affect the school's $5.3-million fund-raising campaign to benefit the sports complex and the athletic department. He feared potential donors might be turned off if the school dropped or downgraded football.

But the primary goal of the drive--at least, the one stated on the slick campaign brochure--is to complete construction of the sports complex, to build baseball pavilions and furnish football/soccer locker rooms, not to save Division I-A football.

Only $1.3 million of the $5.3-million goal was supposed to go to the athletic department, and the athletic department already has spent $800,000 of those funds paying bills from the 1991-92 school year.

That leaves $500,000 more for this year, not enough to make any kind of long-term commitment to I-A football. That will barely cover projected deficits.

Titan Coach Gene Murphy's resignation, announced Oct. 1 and effective at the end of the season, should also force Gordon to change course.

Fullerton Athletic Director Bill Shumard said he won't start a serious search for a replacement--if he needs one, that is--until Gordon determines the direction of the program. That's not supposed to be decided until after the season, which ends Nov. 28.

But if Gordon waits that long, and if Fullerton decides to keep football--whether Division I-A or I-AA--it would probably take another month to hire a new coach. And by the time he put a staff together, the December-January recruiting season might be over.

The football coaches and the entire program would find itself in an all-too-familiar position: Climbing out of a hole.

But if Fullerton keeps some form of football, and Gordon makes his decision now, Shumard will know exactly what he has to offer prospective candidates and types of coaches he's looking for.

A serious search--not a preliminary one--could begin now, and candidates could be interviewed in November. A new coach could be hired as early as the first week of December and a staff assembled shortly thereafter.

They could jump right into the recruiting process and, perhaps, have a decent chance of success in their first season, especially if they drop to the I-AA level.

If Fullerton keeps football--and that seems to be the consensus around school--what the program needs most is a fresh start.

And the longer Gordon and the school wait to begin that cleansing process, the longer the program will wallow in the present.

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