Men's outdoor track earns reprieve from Maryland

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A fundraising burst provided at least a temporary reprieve for the Maryland men’s outdoor track and field team. Seven other programs weren’t so fortunate.

The school finalized the cuts of seven teams Monday, less than eight months after Maryland announced it would drop sports as part of an attempt to stabilize the athletic department’s finances.

The discontinued sports are acrobatics and tumbling (formerly competitive cheer) men’s cross country; men’s and women’s swimming; men’s tennis; men’s indoor track and field; and women’s water polo.

“People ask me what keeps me up at night, and this is what keeps me up at night,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said Monday. “I didn’t come to Maryland to cut sports. … It’s a sad day. It’s a hard thing to deal with.”

The cuts leave Maryland with 20 varsity sports.

The athletic department exhausted its reserve funds last year, prompting Maryland President Wallace D. Loh to form a commission on intercollegiate athletics. The group found the department’s fundraising declined almost 40 percent between 2008 and 2011, with bleak projections of total deficits reaching nearly $8.7 million by 2013 and $17.2 million by 2017 if no programs were dropped.

School officials said all scholarships and coaching contracts tied to the affected sports will be honored, commitments that will limit the savings Maryland receives from the eliminated sports for a few years. The cuts affect about 75 returning athletes, deputy director of athletics Nate Pine said, though that total could decrease as several attempt to transfer and continue their careers elsewhere.

The outdoor track team, which will field a roster of only 14 athletes, raised $880,000. That was shy of the school’s established benchmark of $940,000, but the program was still granted a reprieve to continue through at least the 2012-13 school year.

The program needs $1.88 million by year’s end to exist through the spring of 2014 and $3.76 million by Dec. 31, 2013, to ensure its long-term survival.

Anderson said it was clear in mid-May none of the other endangered programs would reach their fundraising benchmarks. Track was helped in part by a $175,000 donation from the M Club, the school’s letterwinners club. The M Club initially committed $1 million to help save sports at the school.

“It was going to be divided between eight teams or what teams had the best chance to survive,” Anderson said. “With it only being outdoor track, we will continue to sit down and talk to the M Club and see if they will make a bigger contribution.”

Maryland has a storied history in men’s track, winning every annual ACC competition between the 1956 indoor meet and the 1980 indoor meet. However, scholarship cuts eventually relegated the program to the bottom half of the conference; the Terps haven’t finished better than seventh in the ACC since the 1990 outdoor meet.

Nonetheless, there is optimism the program can continue beyond next season. One welcome development: Men’s track athletes will be permitted to enter indoor meets as unattached competitors.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported us to this point,” coach Andrew Valmon said in a statement released by the school. “We have a number of rising seniors on the team and giving them the chance to finish their collegiate careers at Maryland is important to all of us in the program. We have much work to be done in the near future, but this gives us a continued chance to be successful.”

Valmon, who is also the U.S. Olympic track coach, will have 10 scholarships to spread across a smaller roster.

“We’re going to be able to get elite athletes who can compete and score, even with a smaller roster size,” Pine said.

Added Anderson: “Andrew has looked at this and put together a plan and he’s still tweaking it. We don’t just want to have a program. We want to be competitive. The plan is to make sure we’re recruiting the athletes in specific events that will be able to help us score.”

Patrick Stevens

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