“We remain committed to working with the swimming and diving group, as well as the other affected teams,” Ullmann wrote in an e-mail. “The athletic department put a lot of thought into the Save our Sports fundraising campaign, but we are open to other options, provided they are fiscally responsible and address [the athletic department’s] persistent budget deficits.”
While Maryland’s swimmers may be among the first casualties, they may not be the last. The recommendation to cut eight teams (men’s and women’s swimming and diving; men’s tennis; men’s cross-country; men’s indoor and outdoor track; women’s water polo; and acrobatics and tumbling) — made by the President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, approved by Anderson and endorsed by Loh — is predicated on the assumption that Maryland’s football and men’s basketball teams will soon become more profitable.
That in itself is a leap of faith, with football coming off a 2-10 season under first-year Coach Randy Edsall and basketball in rebuilding mode following Gary Williams’s resignation.
“Swimming is just the canary in the coal mine,” says John Tynan, a Save Maryland Swimming and Diving board member whose son, Matthew, swims for the Terrapins. “Today it’s swimming or it’s track or water polo. But you could make the argument: ‘What kind of funding does dance bring in? Or theater? Or philosophy? No one has paid attention to philosophy in 200 years, so let’s whack those!’
“If anyone thinks they’re safe from this, they’ve got their head in the sand.”
‘I still have high hopes'
There are other issues that make supporters question whether the university wants to save its swimming and diving teams, which have helped raise the academic profile of Terrapins athletics. The women’s swimming and diving team graduated 100 percent of its athletes, according to the most recent NCAA data, while the men’s squad graduated 80 percent.
Instead of being regarded as an asset, the teams have been deemed a drain on the budget.
Maryland charges its swimming and diving teams $330,000 per year to use the university’s state-of-the-art pool, an accounting arrangement virtually unheard of among NCAA Division I swim teams, insiders say.
That represents more than 20 percent of the teams’ combined annual budget of $1,544,595.
Anderson said discussions about whether the charge can be waived or reduced are ongoing with Campus Recreation Services, which levies the fee.
Nonetheless, Coach Sean Schimmel said he’s optimistic about the swim teams’ future, even though he has lost next season’s recruiting class because he is precluded from extending scholarships. “I’m hoping the university takes a good look at what we’ve done in the last 10, 12 weeks and sits back and says: ‘This is viable. Let’s step forward and work together,’ ” Schimmel said.
Maryland’s swimmers are preparing for their final home meet of the season, Saturday against Georgetown. Without a reversal, it will be the last home swim meet in Maryland history.
It will also be the last college meet for Lafferty. Although she has one year of eligibility remaining, she has decided against transferring to a school that offers swimming. She’d lose too many credits, she said, and would face two more years of school in order to swim competitively for one more season.
So the college swim career she has loved so much will likely end prematurely. “Everyone says their senior year is the pinnacle of their success,” Lafferty says, the disappointment evident in her voice.
“I still have high hopes. And I have a lot of trust in all these people that we’ll be able to save our program.”