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Maryland athletic cuts only answer to an overdrawn account

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The news that the commission charged with cutting Maryland’s athletic department deficit has recommended cutting eight teams — affecting 166 athletes who participate in six sports — comes as no surprise.

Although the final decision rests with university President Wallace D. Loh, he’ll likely go with the recommendation of the 17-member panel he selected. From the start, there’s never really been any question that Maryland would have to cut back from an unsupportable 27 programs; the only question was how many would be targeted, and which ones.

The good news, if you can call it that, for those athletes whose sports are axed is that their scholarships will be honored, unless they choose to transfer. The coaches’ contracts will be honored as well. That’s only right.

The bad news, of course, is that the people who created Maryland’s problems aren’t the ones who’ll have to fix it. Back in the days when the economy was booming and everyone seemed to have money — remember that? — former athletic director Debbie Yow was adding seats and suites to Byrd Stadium, additions no one but the most optimistic thought the Terps could sell out. She was betting on a bright future for the football program that never really materialized.

Yow also added sports programs, assuming the additional costs would be offset by revenue streams that, again, never materialized. That gave Maryland the third-most programs in the ACC (27) but put its spending per athlete dead last in the conference.

The Maryland athletic department is like a homeowner who finds himself upside down on the mortgage. When revenue becomes a finite number, you turn to costs — and hope that’s enough to save the farm.

The job that faces Loh and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson is a difficult one. They have to look at the school’s success in different sports, the numbers competing, and of course comply with Title IX at the same time. They also have to look at which sports are expensive to field and compare that to the achievements in those sports. Swimming — all the pool sports — took a big hit, but the rental costs of a swimming facility were considerable, and the best swimmers in this area generally gravitate to clubs such as Curl-Burke or top NCAA programs.

(On the other hand, could there be a cheaper sport than men’s cross-country? All they need are uniforms that are so skimpy and lightweight, the runners are literally nicknamed the “thinclads.” How much could that cost?)

Once the cuts have been made, the fate of the budget rests largely with the football program — and that is where this plan gets tricky. Coach Randy Edsall’s first season has not been a smooth one, and his approach has not been embraced by everyone. That has led to some fallout for Anderson, because Edsall was his first major hire. Angry alums are not generous alums: They don’t buy tickets, they don’t purchase suites, and they don’t write checks — especially in the current economic climate.

Maryland’s future depends on the football team’s fortunes. It’s pretty simple. Edsall needs to get the Terrapins on track, and quickly. If that happens, and if the economy rights itself, and if the athletic department once again finds itself with a little nest egg — granted, that’s a lot of ifs — it would behoove the Terps to set aside those proceeds for a rainy day in College Park. It’s bound to happen.

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