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Maryland cuts seven sports on ‘sad day’ in College Park

By Mark Giannotto,

More than six months after Maryland revealed plans to eliminate eight athletic programs as a way to overcome a multimillion-dollar deficit, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson officially announced Monday that seven of those teams were unable to raise the necessary money for survival.

Men’s and women’s swimming; men’s tennis; women’s water polo; acrobatics and tumbling (formerly known as competitive cheer); and two men’s track programs, cross-country and indoor track and field, were eliminated. Those programs did not show enough progress toward raising eight years’ worth of total costs by June 30.

The announcement comes after Maryland President Wallace D. Loh accepted the recommendation of a 17-member panel last November that called for the school to eliminate eight athletic programs to offset a deficit that is projected to reach more than $4 million this fiscal year and could top $17 million by 2017.

One team that faced the chopping block — men’s outdoor track and field — has been saved for the time being after a successful fundraising campaign. The program raised approximately $888,000 and will field a team next season, but still must collect $1.88 million by Dec. 31 to ensure the program’s survival for 2013-14. For the program’s permanent continuation, the men’s track team must raise $3.76 million by Dec. 31, 2013.

“People ask me what keeps me up at night, and this is what keeps me up at night. I didn’t come to Maryland to cut sports,” Anderson said in a teleconference.

This is “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced in my life besides death to an immediate family member, having to go around and tell these young men and women that their programs could possibly, and now will be, discontinued. It’s a sad day. It’s very hard to deal with, particularly being a competitive person. I’m disappointed we weren’t able to raise the money to maintain these sports.”

The seven teams that were eliminated had a total of 131 student-athletes on their rosters this past year, although school officials indicated roughly 75 have decided to remain at Maryland going forward. In addition, the men’s track program will have just 14 members next season, 13 fewer than this past season.

Maryland had previously announced that it will continue to honor the scholarships for all varsity athletes and the contracts for coaches of the eliminated teams. Because of that, Anderson said, eliminating the budget deficit will be an “incremental” process.

There is, however, a strategic plan in place that would allow Maryland to balance its $57.7 million budget by 2015 “if we can keep to the plan and generate the revenue we’re projecting and keep the costs where we are now,” Anderson said.

Last year, the athletic department had to borrow approximately $1.2 million from the university to overcome its budget shortfall.

Led by Coach Andrew Valmon, the head U.S. men’s track coach at the 2012 London Olympics, the Maryland men’s track program formulated a plan in which it will try to remain competitive by targeting athletes in specific events. It also received approximately $175,000 from the M Club, the school’s letter-winners’ booster organization, but still fell a bit short of the $940,000 benchmark set by the school.

“We have a number of rising seniors on the team and giving them the chance to finish their collegiate careers at Maryland is important to all of us in the program,” Valmon said in a school-issued statement. “We have much work to be done in the near future, but this gives us a continued chance to be successful.”

The M Club originally pledged $1 million to help save the athletic programs but Anderson said that figure was meant to support all the teams targeted. He added that it became clear by mid-May only men’s track and field would come close to raising the necessary funds for next season.

The men’s and women’s swimming teams, for instance, needed to raise approximately $2.8 million by Saturday, but ended up with just $184,716.

Maryland athletics faces such a dire financial situation largely because of declining revenue from its football and men’s basketball programs. After undertaking a $50.8 million expansion of Byrd Stadium in 2006, and accruing approximately $35 million in debt as a result, Maryland saw attendance at football games fall every year until this past season.

Meanwhile, Maryland men’s basketball watched its attendance drop by more than 1,700 fans per game this past season, the steepest decline among ACC schools.

Anderson called football and men’s basketball ticket sales “very important” to the department’s revenue strategy, but he was quick to point out Maryland isn’t alone on this issue. Just 22 of the 227 Division I public universities managed to turn a profit within their athletic departments, according to the most recent data supplied to the NCAA.

That, though, did little to console Anderson on a day he described as “bittersweet.”

More on Maryland’s elimination of seven sports U-Md. accepts recommendation to cut eight sports Terrapins’ swimming tries to stay afloat Do Maryland’s woes foreshadow a trend?

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