Maryland athletics budget cuts put Olympic track coach Andrew Valmon in awkward position

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - Maryland men’s track coach Andrew Valmon, shown second from left during the 1993 world championships, is trying to avoid the disbanding of his program in College Park.

Next July 1 will be one of the most thrilling days of Maryland track and field coach Andrew Valmon’s life.

It could also be one of the worst.

It will be the final day of the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Ore., when Valmon will learn the composition of the U.S. Olympic men’s squad that he will coach at the Summer Games in London.

That’s also the day Valmon is expected to lose his collegiate men’s team.

Without a fundraising miracle, Maryland’s once-storied men’s track and field program will be history after June 30, a victim of spending cuts announced Monday that are scheduled to eliminate eight teams.

Hurdling great and Maryland alum Renaldo Nehemiah called the situation “embarrassing.” Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, USA Track and Field’s chief of sport performance, described it as “heartbreaking.”

Besides snuffing out a program once considered among the nation’s most dominant, the move will create a thoroughly awkward situation for Valmon, who surely will be the only men’s track and field coach in London who does not actually have a men’s team to coach back home.

“It’s sad,” said Valmon, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 4x400 relay who was named the Olympic men’s team coach last February. “I’ve tried not to think about that too much. . . . It’s almost impossible for me to say I’m okay with this, because I’m not.”

Valmon, who took over the Maryland program eight years ago, said he remains focused on recruiting and determined to save the program through fundraising efforts. The task, however, is enormous. The men’s track and field program — which includes indoor and outdoor track and cross-country — will have to come up with close to $9.5 million, the cost of preserving it as well as tumbling, according to the university. (Because of Title IX numbers requirements, track would only be salvaged in tandem with tumbling.)

On Tuesday, Valmon met with Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson to ask questions and formulate a fundraising strategy. Valmon, who also coaches Maryland’s women’s track team, said he left the meeting without an understanding of why the university targeted low-budget disciplines such as track and cross-country, but with some confidence that the programs could be saved.

That will mean, he said, tapping into big and small donors alike in the coming months. The university told the eight teams they must raise enough funds to cover eight years of costs.

“I’m not happy with where things are, but I have no choice but to move forward,” Valmon said during a phone interview. “You’re talking about 28 kids who came here for one reason. . . . We don’t want to let them down.”

Nehemiah, a former world-record holder who dominated the 110-meter hurdles in the late 1970s and early ’80s, said he would be happy to assist, but that he couldn’t drum up support single-handedly.

“If this can be a rallying cry, that would be great,” Nehemiah said. “It’s not unachievable, but it’s a tall order. A very tall order.”

Nehemiah said he wasn’t completely surprised by the announcement from University President Wallace D. Loh. He said he’s been dismayed by the spending cuts that have gutted the program in the last three decades. The men’s track and field team won ACC titles for 23 straight years through 1979, but since 1991, the men have fared no better than seventh in the conference.

Budget cuts have come as Maryland has tried to come into compliance with Title IX, the federal law that requires that schools spend the same amount of money and offer the same number of athletic opportunities for women as men. When Valmon took over the team in 2004, he had just two scholarships for the men’s side.

“It’s been hard for me to swallow for some years now,” Nehemiah said. “This happening doesn’t really shock me at all. . . . We’re up a creek without a paddle on the men’s side.”

Though plenty of men’s Olympic sports have been cut in recent years, Monday’s announcement shook up Fitzgerald Mosley, given the stature of the university making the move.

“One of the reasons we’re so strong — the No. 1 track team in the world — is because of that college system,” said Fitzgerald Mosley, who resides in Haymarket and attended Gar-Field High in Woodbridge. “If the University of Maryland cuts its men’s team, what’s [the collegiate landscape] going to be looking like five or 10 years from now? What impact is it going to have on the 2016 Olympics, the 2020 Olympics? . . . It’s gut-wrenching, actually.”

 
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