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SNYDER: Maryland president Loh has hard judgment call

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Members of Maryland's commission on intercollegiate athletics faced an unenviable task when president Wallace D. Loh brought them together four months ago. They were asked to review the athletic department's finances and operations and then recommend measures to increase revenues and decrease costs.

But we all knew where this was heading. It's as if Loh was the patriarch of a family that had grown too large and too costly, and he wanted other relatives to suggest which kids should stay and which should go.

Maryland has 27 "kids," (i.e. teams) in its athletic department. There's no way the school can keep all of them without going broke, as it faces a $4 million deficit this fiscal year and more than $17 million by 2017. So regardless of other suggested remedies for fundraising and lowering spending, the committee was destined to recommend the elimination of some sports.

It's a painful conclusion for those who are affected and those who hate the idea of losing sports — even sports they never follow or support. It forces us to put each sport on a scale and see how it measures up, though each has intrinsic value that makes it the equal of any other.

Women's acrobatics and tumbling provides as much satisfaction for its participants and fans as football generates for its participants and fans (maybe more this year).

But only six Division I programs have acrobatics and tumbling teams compared to about 250 that have football teams. Throw in the fact that football is a so-called "revenue" sport (though not at Maryland) and, well ... the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association likely will be down to five members next year.

In preparing the report it delivered to Loh last week, the commission interviewed 18 of Maryland's coaches. Seven said there were too many sports and some should be eliminated. Another seven said cutting sports should be avoided and other solutions should be examined.

The report doesn't mention which coaches were on either side of the argument.

But it wouldn't be a surprise if the seven who said no cuts were among the eight sports recommended for the chopping block: 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.

There should be no hooting and hollering from teams and supporters that were on the bubble. At least not publicly.

While the relief and excitement are understandable, there's heartache elsewhere in the athletic department. The targeted teams need to be consoled more than the survivors need to be congratulated.

Besides, nothing is official until Loh makes his decisions, after weighing input from athletic director Kevin Anderson, the University Senate Executive Committee and the university's Athletic Council.

Loh already sees the pain ahead.

"As I read the report, my thoughts were on the student-athletes and coaches of [the affected] teams, individuals who have dedicated so much of their lives to competing and coaching in their chosen sport at the highest level," he said in a statement. As the parent of a student-athlete, I understand the very real anguish this recommendation occasions.

"... I recognize that the recommendation to reduce the number of intercollegiate sports is distressing and saddening to the student-athletes, their families, coaches, and supporters. My intention is to not unduly draw out this time of uncertainty. However, this is a most difficult situation that demands the most careful consideration."

Supporters of the wrestling program were concerned, partially because so many schools have dropped the sport over the past few decades. It probably helps that wrestling is among the Terps' most successful programs, claiming ACC titles in three of the past four seasons. Conversely, men's swimming and diving hasn't had a winning record in 10 years and is 1-25 in ACC meets since 2005.

But a lot more goes into the decisions than recent and historical success. For instance, the school must be mindful of Title IX, which seeks to ensure equal opportunities for female athletes. And in the case several sports, including aquatics, expense is another issue. My colleague Patrick Stevens reports that 10 of Maryland's 27 teams don't own the facilities they use for competition and/or practice.

Unfortunately, this just might be the first round for Maryland athletics. But unlike the previous administration, Loh realizes the Terps are in a fight.

And that's the first step to win one.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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