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49er Athletic Gloom Spreads Like Red Ink

April 19, 1987|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Spring brightens the campus of California State University, Long Beach, and gives no hint of the gloom that shrouds athletics there.

Sports are in trouble. There is not enough money to support them.

And matching the hardness of the times are the feelings of some 49er boosters, who claim that university administrators have lied to them about being committed to a high-quality athletic program.

President Stephen Horn and John R. Beljan, vice president of academic affairs, say they support athletics but can't make commitments because of the university's financial state. They maintain that they want to continue with a Division I-A athletic program but it depends on whether large numbers of people suddenly attend games and give large amounts of money.

Scholarships must be paid with community donations or gate receipts, and CSULB has never had a high level of either. Football and men's basketball have not done what they are supposed to: produce revenue. Attendance for football (7,844 average the last three seasons) is the lowest among Division I-A universities and the 1,839 average over the same time in men's basketball is among the lowest.

Football was salvaged--for the time being--by $300,000 in community donations during a frantic drive last December. Horn had threatened last Nov. 25 to drop the sport if the money, needed to pay for scholarships and ease an athletic department deficit, was not raised.

The drive, which raised twice as much money as had ever been raised in any year, ended in a euphoria that has evaporated.

John Kasser, the athletic director who led the drive, resigned March 4. His successor, 39-year-old Corey Johnson, who had been assistant athletic director at the University of Miami, was not the boosters' choice because he was from outside the area.

Two weeks ago, Beljan suspended the track and cross-country programs to further reduce expenses.

And Thursday, Johnson said that Joe Harrington of George Mason College in Virginia will be the new men's basketball coach. That is expected to be an unpopular choice. "Who? From where?" asked one booster, who felt that former 49er star Ed Ratleff should have been selected.

Fed up, the men who contribute money and raise it, say they are in no mood to give or raise more.

What has to be raised is $500,000, which was included in Horn's ultimatum, and it has to be in by July 1, 1988, in order to continue football.

According to Matt Coffey, assistant athletic director for business affairs, dramatic attendance increases are needed in football and basketball to make even a dent in the budget deficit.

"What it comes down to is winning some men's basketball games," Coffey said.

And university officials now say that $250,000 may have to be added to the $500,000 fund-raising effort because the California State University system wants to shift the salaries of five CSULB athletic administrators from state funds to the athletic department's budget.

"We're constantly the laughingstock of the athletic world," said Don Dyer, who has resigned as president-elect of the 49er Athletic Foundation. "It's always crisis after crisis."

Dyer, an attorney, sat with Bill Ridgeway, an architectural designer who also has quit the foundation, in Ridgeway's loft-office in Naples on a recent morning and described the frustrations of backing CSULB sports. Both graduated from the university in the 1960s and have long been main fund-raisers for the athletic department.

"I would be embarrassed to ask anyone for a penny now," Ridgeway said. "I feel I've been deceived, lied to and used."

Dyer and Ridgeway said they resigned from the foundation because they were upset about how the new athletic director was chosen.

"We had a meeting with Dr. Beljan and were promised that the top emphasis would be on a local person who could raise money in the community, that no assistant athletic directors would be considered and that the selection would be done by April 1," Dyer said.

But two area candidates, Riverside City College President Charles Kane and Dick Perry, a former USC athletic director, withdrew because they said it was apparent a decision was not going to be reached by April 1. Perry was named athletic director at University of California, Riverside, on April 3.

"They missed the deadline because they had to have two more interviews, both with assistant A.D.'s (one was Johnson) from out of the area," Dyer said. "They could have honored their commitment to (Kane and Perry) if they had kept their word and not done the last two interviews."

Dyer and Ridgeway also blame the administration for a lack of long-term sports planning.

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