Monday, February 22, 2010

S.O.S. for Spartans football, 2/23/75

With the recruiting period for the 1975 college football season nearly at an end, University of Tampa head coach Dennis Fryzel felt good about his young prospects. The National Letter of Intent day on February 19, 1975, would culminate what he hoped was his best incoming freshman class yet.

On February 12, however, a letter written by the University of Tampa board of trustees finance committee sent shockwaves throughout the community and threatened to destroy Fryzel’s plans for the future.

Faced with a projected $220,000 budget deficit for the 1975-76 academic year, the finance committee determined that the school’s football program – itself facing a $226,000 budget deficit – would have to be eliminated for the overall good of the university. Over the previous nine years, according to the letter, the football program had been subsidized by the trustees to the tune of nearly $1.9 million and continuing to subsidize a money-losing operation would “seriously hamper the high qualitative academic standing which the University enjoys nationally.”

The letter also cited the arrival of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an impending drain on fan support for college football. Interestingly, another reason cited by the trustees was a desire to broaden other athletic pursuits -- particularly co-ed -- at the school. This was based on suggestion by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which believed that “there was an imbalance of football emphasis at the university.”

The letter represented only recommendations by the committee. The findings expressed in the letter allowed the athletic department, business community and other interested parties time to convince the board of trustees to change their minds.

It did not take long for the aftershocks to begin. The Sword and Shield Club – the fundraising arm for University of Tampa athletics – called for an immediate meeting at the Riverside Hilton to discuss plans to save the football program. More than 300 people attended the meeting, raising a quick $22,000 for the program.

The Sword and Shield Club issued a counter-proposal, stating that a group of between 200-500 citizens would offset any deficit incurred by the football program, under the condition that an accounting procedure be established to determine the precise amount of any deficits.

Marvin Scott, who headed up the proposal for the club, said “the only thing that will save the University of Tampa football program is money. In this short period of time, we’ve been able to raise enough to show that there are many who care and want to see this program continue.”

The meeting also served as a forum for many to vent. For some, the timing of the decision was bothersome. Others questioned the validity of the committee’s conclusions regarding the football program as a financial drain.

Fryzel, for one, argued that the program brought in money in 1974. He cited “paper money,” however, as the reason for the program’s deficit.

“We made $629,000 last year, and only budgeted for $475,000,” he said. “When you multiply $2,300 (cost of tuition) times 75 (number of players on scholarship), you’ll find out why we’re operating in the red. This is paper money and I don’t think it should be charged off against us. We should be charged with room and board and books.”

Many, meanwhile, questioned the university’s commitment to athletics and whether donors would feel like making large gifts to a school without a football team.

On February 20, the school acquiesced and postponed a meeting to vote on the finance committee’s recommendations regarding the program. This allowed the Sword and Shield Club, as well as other interested groups, an additional week to formulate their plans to save football.

On February 23, the “Save Our Spartans” (S.O.S.) plan became a reality. In just four days' time, the campaign hoped to generate $200,000 in public pledges. The free use of 62 billboards around the Bay area was aimed at generating rapid awareness and interest in the campaign.

Jim Metcalf, one of the leaders behind the pledge drive, said that one way or another, the university would find out the community’s level of support for keeping the football program.
“The community has a chance to express itself,” he said. “If the community and the university don’t want the program, then it ought to go. We’ll find out this way.”

1 comment:

  1. we neeeeed football here at UT

    email me at