Maryland hosts open forum to solicit ideas for how to fix athletic department budget deficit

The forum was held by Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, above, appointed to study solutions for the nearly $1 million shortfall.

Turnout was sparse Monday for an open forum soliciting ideas about how to remedy Maryland athletics’ roughly $1 million budget deficit.

On a campus of 37,000, about 60 attended the only public forum held to date by the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which Maryland President Wallace D. Loh appointed in July to study the shortfall that has dogged the department the past several years and suggest ways to increase revenue and cut costs.

Of the 60 on hand at the Student Union, only two signed up to speak — one of those by mistake, thinking he had signed an attendance log.

Amid the awkward silence, would-be observers turned into participants, and wide-ranging commentary spilled forth, with 14 Terrapin alumni, staff, supporters and students tossing out ideas for balancing the ledger without cutting any of Maryland’s 27 varsity teams.

More than one suggested that profanity was hurting attendance, deterring families from attending games at Comcast Center. Another, senior Ary Manzhukh, argued that the crackdown on beer pong among of-age students had spoiled the social aspect of tailgating before football games.

“How about you create an environment that’s fun to go to?” Manzhukh said “I promise you: If you make the environment fun, people will come.”

Colin Potts, 44, a Terrapin Club board member, advocated for more transparency in Maryland’s budgetary process, suggesting that if fans had a better understanding of the department’s needs and accounting practices, they’d be more willing to give.

“The more you show people you’re sound in the future, the more donors will come in,” Potts said.

Bruce Winter, a 1984 Maryland graduate, urged creation of an endowment to help fund Terrapin athletics for the long haul.

As the speakers wound down, the academics who make up much of the 17-member commission posed questions to the audience. Would Maryland students be willing to pay a small fee, perhaps $5, to attend events of the non- ­revenue sports they currently attend for free?

Senior Austin Bartolomei-Hill, who is well on his way to reaching his goal of attending at least one game of each of Maryland’s 27 varsity teams before graduating, said he’d likely pay but doubted many peers would. Plus, he noted, that’s what the mandatory student athletic fees are supposed to cover.

Panel member Patricia Florestano, Maryland’s former secretary of higher education, posed the essential challenge to the room.

“Help us find a way to expand revenue so that the cutting of some sports is not an attractive option,” Florestano said. “Nobody wants to do that.”

The response: Another awkward silence.

“That’s where we are, too,” she said.

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. She has also covered seven Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.


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