In 1987, soon after University of Maryland Athletic Director Lew Perkins and his assistant, Kevin Weiberg, arrived in College Park, they learned they had money problems.

"When I got there, they were $1 million in debt. The university covered it, and the athletic department had to pay it back with interest each year," said Weiberg, now associate commissioner of the Big Ten conference.

Athletic department officials sought relief from some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges that had been levied in recent years by the university -- assessments for administrative costs, maintenance, utilities and meals.

Such charges now top $1 million, including $600,000 for utilities and maintenance, $326,000 for administrative overhead and $200,000 for feeding athletes.

"We had a feeling {the university was} making a profit," Weiberg said. "We were looking for help."

But then-Chancellor John B. Slaughter had no intention of doing anything that smacked of subsidizing the sports program.

"We knew the state of the athletic department's finances," recalled Slaughter, now president of Occidental College in Los Angeles.

"We were trying to deal with that, but at the same time keep athletics appropriately within the context of the university."

The athletic department constantly battled the university over expenses, Perkins said. "We always feel we're overcharged," he said at one point. "I always feel like they're killing us."

The university could ease the department's budget crunch by raising student fees or charging in-state tuition rates to all athletes. That is a common practice elsewhere, and at Maryland it would save about $4,000 per out-of-state athlete each year.

A recent survey of its members by the College Football Association found that athletic departments that are breaking even or making a profit are those receiving the greatest amounts of institutional support. The association's public institutions received, on average, 14 percent of their funds from state and university sources.