Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Merger threatens Savage Hall

BY NOW, alumni and friends of the University of Toledo, proud of the Rockets' athletic accomplishments - especially a football team often mentioned among the nation's top 25 or top 50 - should realize that those gains are in serious jeopardy. The needs of athletes and coaches must be sacrificed on the altar of costs associated with UT's merger with the Medical University of Ohio.

That fact became abundantly clear with the latest failure of UT's Board of Trustees to take action (again) on renovation of Savage Hall and construction of an indoor training facility to match those in place at every Mid-American Conference institution except Toledo.

Even more perplexing, in fact incomprehensible, was the statement by board member Richard McQuade that he is "confounded" and "would like to see where this university is going in terms of athletics, what our goals are."


How much happier we would be if Mr. McQuade were of the mind of Ball State President Dr. Jo Ann Gora, who recently justified her institution's commitment to athletics by saying: "Ball State University wants to position itself at the top of the MAC. I think we should be competing for that MAC Championship every year."

She isn't confounded. Her goals are clear.

Refusal to approve Athletic Director Mike O'Brien's proposed $47 million improvement in UT athletic facilities and instead ask for more "market research" is an insult to our intelligence and the taxpayers.

There already have been three Savage Hall renovation studies since 2000. They have cost $250,000. Six years have passed while Dan Johnson and his trustees have fiddled as Savage Hall deteriorates. Now, if we take seriously statements by board members at their most recent meeting, one or possibly two more studies may be necessary. Truly amazing!

Next thing we know all of us, including thousands of resident students added to campus in recent years, will be told to jump in our cars and follow Rocket basketballers to a nebulous downtown arena that movers and shakers have been pushing for 40 years.

I should know.

As a representative of the athletic director, I sat in a 1960s meeting at the Toledo Club, listening to how a downtown arena could get millions of tax dollars without a public vote. I was told to report that UT was not interested in playing its games off campus, a principle upheld by every president and board of trustees up to the era of Dan Johnson.

The reason our football stadium is the MAC's best and has been praised nationally is that in the late 1980s UT President Jim McComas took one look at the decrepit Glass Bowl and judged it a disgrace. He informed trustees that modernization was necessary, that it should be done quickly, and that it could be paid for with bonds that would be paid for over the long term.

We can thank Jim McComas - who left us to begin building even bigger athletic programs at Virginia Tech - for the superior athletes attracted to UT and the resulting MAC championships, bowl championships, and nationally televised games that have gained so much recognition for UT and the City of Toledo.

The problem is that since then every other MAC institution has upgraded its football stadium and has gone us one better with construction of lavish indoor facilities for use during bad weather months. Western Michigan, for instance, spent as much on its indoor facility as Mike O'Brien proposes to spend on Savage Hall renovation.

We know now why Mr. O'Brien might be seeking greener pastures. In athletics, as in life, you either get better or you get worse, and as one UT coach once told me, "You're only as good as your president lets you be."

Our pastures are aging. Unless we find a president and a board with the guts of Jim McComas, the grass won't stay green much longer.

Oh, well. We can say we have a medical school and the other MAC universities do not.

Feel better, alumni?

Max Gerber retired in 1988 after 28 years as sports information director at the University of Toledo.

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