That gap, in large part, explains why the University of Maryland’s athletic department is in such financial trouble, facing a $4 million annual deficit that is projected to more than triple by 2017. And it’s a chief reason why university President Wallace D. Loh is weighing a recommendation to drop at least eight of the school’s 27 varsity teams.
“If you want to have a broad-based athletic program, it’s going to be expensive, and you have to figure out how to pay for it,” said John Cheslock, associate professor of higher education at Penn State who has studied the economics of intercollegiate athletics. “It’s easier said than done. How are you going to generate all this [profit]? You need to have fervent fan support for football. And Maryland does not naturally have the level of fervent support that some traditional football powers do. They can have a good year and go up. But it’s hard to sustain.”
Maryland football’s struggles are hardly the only reason why the athletics department can’t pay its bills.
Men’s basketball also isn’t turning the profit it once did, according to the 27-page report of the 17-member commission Loh appointed to look into the department’s finances that was released Monday. Athletic fundraising has dropped 40 percent in four years — from $15.3 million in 2008 to $9.1 million in the fiscal year that ended in June.
But football drives the train in big-time college sports. And that train is off the rails in College Park, prompting the proposal to slash nearly one-third of Maryland’s varsity sports — all three men’s track teams, men’s tennis, men’s and women’s swimming, water polo and acrobatics/tumbling — to help balance the budget.
Assuming Loh endorses the cuts, as well as other proposed cost-saving measures, Maryland athletics could balance its budget by 2015 and begin repaying the $1.2 million it borrowed from the university to pay last year’s bills, according to the report. But that is predicated on the assumption that Maryland football and men’s basketball will become nationally competitive in the next few years.
Asked whether he felt responsible for generating sufficient profit to help pay for the Terps’ “non-revenue” sports, Maryland football Coach Randy Edsall, whose team is 2-8, said: “I don’t feel any added pressure. I am going to get up each and every day and come to work and do the best that I can to help this university achieve the goals that it wants to achieve. And I am responsible for football, and all I want to be able to do is achieve for my kids to be the best they can in the classroom, to be the best that they can on the field and to be the best they can as people.”