Maryland poised to drop swim teams, among other sports

November 9, 2011

The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams are bracing for Maryland to drop their programs as part of a cost-cutting move following a meeting with Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.

By Tuesday night, word of the programs’ likely elimination had reached Bob Groseth, executive director of the College Swimming Coaches Association. And a “Save UMD Swimming and Diving” Facebook group had formed in response, with 3,000 members and growing.

Groseth said in a telephone interview that he was told swimming is among as many as 10 sports identified for possible elimination at Maryland. That’s roughly one-third of the department’s offering of 27 sports.

“Certainly it’s a sad day for swimming,” Groseth said in a telephone interview. “But the prospect of six or seven or eight more teams being cut — it’s a sad day for athletics.”

Maryland’s athletics department is on track to lose $4.7 million this fiscal year. The deficit is projected to more than triple, reaching $17.6 million, within the next five years unless spending is drastically cut, revenues are sharply increased or both.

Alarmed by the shortfall, Maryland President Wallace Loh in July appointed a 17-member panel to recommend ways of solving Maryland’s deficit spending. The President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is due to submit its report to Loh next Tuesday, who in turn will forward it to Anderson and the University Athletic Council for their input. Loh is expected to issue his final decision by Dec. 31.

But Anderson met with Maryland’s men’s and women’s swim teams Tuesday and reportedly told them they would be among the teams that Loh’s commission recommended for elimination at season’s end.

Anderson couldn’t be reached to comment but released a statement through a university spokesman, saying: “The President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is in the process of reviewing the finances and operation of the athletic department. That report is scheduled to be delivered to President Loh by Nov. 15, so any comment at this time would be premature.”

The statement went on to note that Wednesday marks the beginning of the early signing period for some sports (swimming among them). Given that the future of some of Maryland’s teams hinges on the panel’s recommendations, Maryland officials decided against mailing out letters-of-intent to high school prospects poised to commit to Maryland, unsure that they’ll be able to offer those sports.

“The well-being of all student-athletes is our primary concern,” Anderson’s statement read. “Holding the letters is the only responsible action until final decisions are made.”

Maryland wouldn’t be the first ACC school to drop swimming. Clemson did so last year.

According to Groseth, the number of Division I swimming teams has declined from 183 to 159 in recent years but has grown in Divisions II and III.

“As you see with all this conference [realignment], there is a growing number of athletic directors who are using athletic departments as a bottom-line business model — not as part of an overall education model,” Groseth said.

Maryland lists 24 men and 26 women on its swimming rosters.

Maryland’s 27 varsity sports are four more than the ACC average (23) and 11 more than the NCAA minimum for Division I (16). Like many of its peers in the ACC, Maryland has long supported a broad-based offering of varsity sports. But as the expense of competing in Division I has escalated rapidly, Maryland has struggled to keep pace, lagging behind in the private donations and the handsome football profits that bankroll non-revenue sports at other schools.

Unlike flagship universities in many other states, Maryland is required to field a self-sustaining athletics program — one that pays for itself, albeit with help from mandatory student fees, without receiving appropriations from the university’s general fund.

Loh revealed this past summer that the sports department had spent more than it brought in for several years but managed to mask its deficit by tapping a reserve fund. That fund is now depleted, and the university had to cover $1.2 million of last year’s shortfall.

According to the financial report that Maryland filed to the NCAA for fiscal year 2009-10, women’s swimming recorded the largest net loss ($973,706) among varsity sports; men’s swimming lost $620,889.

Just two ACC schools offer more sports than Maryland’s 27: Boston College (31) and North Carolina (28). Georgia Tech offers the fewest at 17; Miami and Wake Forest offer 18.

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