Maryland’s presidential commission on intercollegiate athletics recommended cutting eight of the school’s 27 varsity sports, effective July 1, 2012, as part of a series of recommendations released Monday night.
The eight sports that could be eliminated are acrobatics and tumbling (formerly competitive cheerleading); men’s cross country; men’s and women’s swimming and diving; men’s tennis; indoor and outdoor men’s track and field; and women’s water polo.
The commission recommended all scholarships to current athletes in those sports be honored through graduation and for coaches affected by any potential cuts have their contracts upheld. It also suggested revamping outreach and fundraising activities; reinvesting resources for remaining teams to bolster academic support and fitness; and reformatting the department’s annual financial reports so they are more clearly stated.
“By putting into place a balanced and sustainable fiscal and programmatic plan, Maryland Athletics will be able to support the 529 student athletes on these teams at a proper level to ensure their success in competition and in their studies,” the commission wrote.
In a letter Monday afternoon to members of the Terrapin Club, the department’s fundraising arm, athletic director Kevin Anderson insisted no final decisions have been made about the long-term fate of any team.
“I want to make one thing perfectly clear, I do not wish to eliminate any athletic program, not a single one,” wrote Anderson, who was hired in September 2010 to replace long-time athletic director Debbie Yow. “I have devoted my professional life to building athletic programs and to enhancing the student athlete experience.
“While I would not wish these circumstances on anyone, I was brought to Maryland to lead and I am prepared to make the hard decisions necessary to make Maryland Athletics a model department with respect to academic, competitive and financial success and stability.”
Anderson is expected to provide a response to the report by Dec. 1. The university’s athletic council will issue a response by Dec. 15, with campus president Wallace D. Loh scheduled to make a final decision by the end of the year.
A gashing of nearly a third of the school’s teams is hardly a surprise. The school’s athletic department suffered financial problems for several years, and Loh acknowledged in July the department’s monetary reserves were exhausted and authorized the 17-member commission to examine ways to both increase revenues and decrease costs.
Boosting revenue, especially in the midst of an abysmal 2-8 football season and a men’s basketball season projected to be perhaps the most trying in nearly two decades, isn’t an easy measure. The commission noted net revenues in both sports have decreased considerably in recent years, with football losing more than $64,000 in fiscal year 2011.
Football’s woes in recent years – the team was 2-10 in 2009 before a 9-4 season last year – have led to an inability to sell suites in an expanded Byrd Stadium. In fiscal year 2011, Maryland fell $318,000 shy of simply servicing the facility debt on the suites, which opened in 2009.
In addition, Maryland’s fundraising has shrunk almost 40 percent in just three years. The department’s total fundraising was nearly $15.3 million in fiscal year 2008 and barely $9.1 million in fiscal year 2011.
Future projections the commission studied were especially bleak. With 27 sports, the department’s anticipated total deficit would be nearly $8.7 million by 2013 and $17.2 million by 2017.
Cutting costs – and sports – then is a major part of overhauling a department that offers more sports than any ACC school other than Boston College (31) and North Carolina (28). At 19 sports, Maryland would have more teams than Georgia Tech (17), Miami (18) and Wake Forest (18) and the same number as Clemson and Florida State.
“Athletic Director Kevin Anderson has personally told student-athletes and coaches of the affected programs about the Commission’s recommendations,” Loh wrote in a statement posted on the university’s website. “This is a difficult time for them, a situation not of their doing. They are among Maryland’s most outstanding ambassadors and their contributions on and off the field have helped make this University what it is today.”
Clearly, the recommendations were made with the implications of Title IX, a 1972 law that assures equality in education. Five of the eight teams suggested for elimination are men’s programs – though baseball and wrestling, sports often vulnerable to athletics reductions nationally, were not included in the suggested cuts.
None of the programs recommended for elimination are as storied as the men’s track program, which won every ACC meet between 1956 and the 1980 indoor meet and produced eight individual NCAA champions. However, it has not finished better than sixth in an ACC meet since 1990.
Maryland’s men’s tennis program advanced to the NCAA tournament last spring for the first time since the event went to a single-elimination format in 1978. It won the last of its two ACC titles in 1964, and has not finished second in the conference since 1986.
The men’s swimming program has won four ACC meets but none since 1969-70. It has not finished in the top five at the ACC meet since 1999-2000. The women’s swimming program finished fourth in the ACC the last two years and won the ACC meet in 2004-05.
Meanwhile, the water polo program’s first season was 2004 and has recorded winning seasons in three of the last four years, including a 19-14 mark last season. Maryland is the only ACC school that sponsors women’s water polo.
The acrobatics and tumbling team was added in the same school year. Maryland was one of the first schools to elevate what was then called competitive cheerleading to varsity status. It is the only sport offered by Maryland not sponsored by the NCAA.
The commission also suggested a 10 percent cut in administrative costs and maximizing Comcast Center as an entertainment value. But it is the recommendations of reducing the athletics tableau in a department whose slogan in recent years was “27 sports, one team” that was easily the most sobering.
“There is no doubt that this is a difficult time for all of us in the Maryland family,” Anderson wrote. “We have faced difficult challenges in the past and overcame them. I have no doubt that we will answer the call again this time.”