Calling Monday a “day of enormous sadness,” University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh accepted the recommendation of his athletics commission to cut eight of the school’s 27 varsity sports programs in an effort to tackle the athletic department’s multimillion dollar deficit.
The 17-member panel, which Loh formed in July, last week recommended the elimination of all three men’s track teams (indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, cross-country); men’s and women’s swimming and diving; men’s tennis; women’s water polo; and aerobics and tumbling (former known as competitive cheer).
Inaction, Loh said, “puts at risk the entire Maryland athletics program.”
Loh and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson will give supporters of each team identified in the commission’s report until June 30 the opportunity to raise eight years’ worth of total program costs.
After that date, a full program endowment will need to be completed by 2020 in order to support the program in perpetuity. Anderson said he is prepared to commit two senior development staff members full time to the cause.
The programs will be paired with respect to Title IX requirements to ensure that proportionality is maintained. The funding to save all eight sports teams — men’s and women’s swimming ($11.6 million); men’s track and acrobatics and tumbling ($9.5 million); and water polo and men’s tennis ($8 million) — totals more than $29 million, according to figures provided by the school.
Asked whether there is any hope to raise those funds, Anderson said during a news conference, “I would not be sitting up here if I didn’t think we had the possibility to raise these funds . . . I have all the hope in the world that with all the e-mails I have received in the last couple weeks that folks want to help out and save these teams, so I am counting on that and I think that we will be successful.”
The M Club, the school’s letterwinners’ booster organization, has pledged $1 million in an effort to save all teams from being cut.
Monday’s 30-minute news conference took on a somber tone. Anderson, who accepted the committee’s recommendation under the condition of allowing teams to fundraise to avoid elimination, said that the last month has been one of the most difficult times in his life and that “the only thing I can equate it to is losing some family members . . . I didn’t come here to the University of Maryland to cut sports.”
Any cuts would take effect July 1, 2012. The recommendation to eliminate eight teams would affect 166 student-athletes, based on this year’s rosters. Maryland will honor the scholarships of all varsity athletes regardless of whether their teams are eliminated. All contracts of affected coaches also will be honored.
In a written response to the commission’s report, Loh said: “To continue to make deep cuts across all programs — to impose a democracy of pain — is not the path to excellence. . . . In a time of constrained resources, we have to choose: should we have fewer programs so that they can be better supported and, hence, more likely to be successful at the highest level? Or, should we keep the large number of programs that are under- supported compared to their conference peers?”
Cutting eight teams would reduce to 19 the number of teams at Maryland, putting it just below the ACC average of 21. Its spending per athlete would rise from dead last in the ACC ($67,390 per athlete) to the top half of the 12-team league.
Loh said the current business model in college sports, where schools rely on two revenue-producing sports (football and men’s basketball) as well as lucrative television contracts associated with those sports, is “inequitable and unsustainable.” Loh pledged to continue to work with the ACC, NCAA and other national organizations to address what he called the escalating financial arms race in college sports.
Barry Gossett, a co-chair of the commission and a member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, said that without success in football and men’s basketball, “we’re not going to have a great deal of income to work with.”
Anderson said the struggles of the football team — it has a 2-9 record — and attendance issues late in the season played no role in the number of teams that were targeted to be cut. Anderson also said that the team’s attendance and revenue was up from last year.
Asked about the $2 million buyout of the final year of Ralph Friedgen’s contract after last football season, Anderson said it was a “one-time revenue investment” and that “we were able to cover that cost where it didn’t come out of the general operating budget.”
In the last week, Loh said, he met with all affected teams, including about 90 student-athletes and the coaching staffs. And Anderson met with all affected athletes and coaches before submitting his response.
“This,” Loh said, “is perhaps one of the most painful and heart-wrenching decisions I have made.”