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Maryland athletics department faces financial challenges

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Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said that in the past two to three years, the school’s athletic department has lost between 2,000 and 3,000 donors, contributing to some urgent financial challenges facing Maryland athletics.

Given that the university is located in what Anderson called “one of the most stable [economic] markets in the country,” he said he believes the trend can be stemmed and reversed.

Anderson recently hired the man charged with guiding Maryland’s efforts in that regard. Nathan Pine’s first day as the school’s senior associate athletic director and chief of staff was Monday, and in the coming months his primary task will be to reshape the department’s strategic plan, parts of which Anderson and Pine indicated have grown outdated and insufficient in recent years.

“We are facing some financial challenges in that we are going to have to put this plan together sooner rather than later to meet these challenges,” Anderson said in an interview Thursday, when asked whether any of the school’s 27 varsity sports was in danger of being cut. “No telling what could happen if we don’t meet those challenges.”

The need to revitalize the strategic planbecame apparent to Anderson shortly after he arrived on campus last October. With Maryland’s ticket sales, donor base and overall revenue in decline — issues that many other athletic departments across the country are facing, as well — Anderson saw value in having someone on staff whose sole focus was finding means to turn the program around from a broad perspective.

The financial outlook for the Maryland athletic department is not ideal, Anderson said.

He returned to campus Wednesday from an Atlantic Coast Conference athletic directors’ meeting in which it was revealed Maryland’s cost for paying men’s basketball officials is going to increase by 25 percent and its cost for paying women’s basketball officials is going to increase 18 to 20 percent. That’s a minor, yet significant example, Anderson noted, of the unanticipated expenditures for which his department now will have to account.

Down the road, Maryland’s athletic department is facing a rising debt service that could reach what Anderson called a “very significant” level in 2016. Anderson declined to provide specifics as to the current debt service amount — “I am not certain because the number varies, and there are certain variables that will go into that that have not been set in stone yet” — or what it projects to be in coming years.

“I’d like to address it with you now, but I’m not certain about the number,” Anderson said. “It could vary from something that’s significant. We’re putting our arms around it now.”

Maryland has used a chief of staff in the past, but in an entirely different capacity. Most recently, Cheryl Levick served that role under former athletic director Debbie Yow. Until she was hired as Georgia State’s athletic director in February 2009, Levick ran Maryland’s day-to-day operations for nearly two years.

Rather than be involved in day-to-day matters, Pine will be charged with keeping the department on track toward long-term fundraising and marketing goals. He will report directly to Anderson, and while he won’t be directly in charge of anyone, he will be what Anderson called a “vertical integrator,” someone who works with all areas of the department to keep everyone on the same page.

“A big portion on that fundraising initiative is clarifying the vision and making sure that we strategically communicate what Maryland athletics is all about and why alums, fans and donors should invest in it,” Pine said in an interview.

He said the goal is to at least have a rough draft of the plan done in the next 60 to 90 days.

Pine comes to Maryland after spending nearly three years at the University of California, where he worked as the assistant athletic director for development and major gifts. Last fall, Cal’s athletic department debt grew so significant that it announced the elimination of five varsity sports, a move that projected to save the department roughly $4 million per year. Following a fundraising campaign, three of the sports were reinstated.

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