2:53: UPDATES THROUGHOUT
Writing that “inaction could be ruinous for the future of Maryland athletics,” University of Maryland President Wallace Loh released his response to the budgetary recommendations made by the President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, agreeing with the commission’s recommendation to cut eight sports, effective July 1, 2012. But Loh and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson also gave the eliminated teams a chance to raise enough funds to ensure survival.
At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Loh said it “is perhaps one of the most painful and heart-wrenching decisions I’ve made.”
“This is not something that any of us wanted to do,” Loh later added. Anderson said that the “last month has been one of the most difficult times of my life.”
The commission released its report on Nov. 14, proposing that Maryland cut eight of its 27 varsity teams — all three men’s track teams (indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, cross-country); men’s swimming and diving; women’s swimming and diving; men’s tennis; women’s water polo; and aerobics and tumbling (formerly known as competitive cheer) — to help alleviate a multimillion-dollar deficit in the school's athletic department.
Anderson, in his response to the commission, recommended that supporters of the elminated teams “be given the opportunity to raise 8 years’ worth of total program costs by June 30, 2012, in order to keep the program in existence.”Anderson said two senior staff members will be committed to helping out with such endeavors.
Loh said that the M Club, the main Maryland athletics booster club, has committed $1 million already to this campaign. Because of Title IX requirements two teams — one men’s, one women’s — will need to be saved together.
According to the report, it will cost $11.6 million to fund eight years of men’s and women’s swimming, $9.5 million to fund men’s track and acrobatics and tumbling, and $8 million to fund water polo and men’s tennis.
The Maryland swimming and diving programs announced on Monday the creation of Save Maryland Swimming and Diving, a nonprofit organization devoted to raising the funds needed to save the programs.
“We look forward to working with the administration to ensure the sustainability of our nationally ranked program,” Kevin Reardon, a former Maryland swimmer and the organization’s communications director, said in a statement. “These student-athletes are among the best and brightest at this University. We encourage our friends, fans, alumni and fellow athletes to help financially support these outstanding individuals.”
Loh also agreed with the commission on fundraising, saying a more coordinated and collaborative effort is needed between the school and the athletic department, and on support for Maryland’s student-athletes, saying the money recovered from budget cuts and revenue enhancements must be used to pay for academic advisers and athletic training.
Maryland 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.
The plan to cut eight sports would balance Maryland’s annual athletic budget by fiscal year 2015 and will balance Maryland’s operating deficit by 2019. Without the measures suggested by the commission, the athletics deficit is projected to reach slightly more than $4 million this fiscal year and top $17 million by 2017.
Declining football and men’s basketball revenues have been a key reason for Maryland's financial problems. Profits from the football team have plunged nearly 50 percent in the past five years, from just more than $3.5 million in fiscal year 2006 to $1.8 million in fiscal 2010.
“Without success in [football and men’s basketball], we’re not going to have a good deal of revenue to work with,” said Barry Gossett, co-chairman of the commission and past chairman of the Maryland Board of Trustees.
Unlike sports at many other public universities, Maryland athletics are not supported by state funding, instead relying on fundraising that has slumped in recent years and student fees. To alleviate past budget deficits, Maryland previously tapped an athletic department reserve fund. But with the fund depleted, the athletics department had to borrow $1.2 million from the university to cover last year’s deficit.
“Financial responsibility means that we cannot continue year after year . . . living beyond our means and kicking the can down the road,” Loh said.
Loh wrote in accepting the commission’s findings that the commission’s plan would help rebuild the athletic department’s contingency fund.
“In these tight economic times, we must live within our means, not spend more than we can afford, and still offer a good-sized menu of non-revenue sports for a variety of student-athletes, without diverting resources from the core academic functions of the University,” Loh wrote.