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Track alums stunned that Maryland may cut program
Dontae Bugg paused Tuesday morning and looked at his wrist. The attorney had on a red, black and gold Maryland track and field bracelet and, as usual, would wear it into court.
It probably meant a bit more on this particular day. Less than 24 hours earlier, Maryland’s presidential commission on intercollegiate athletics recommended the elimination of eight teams — including the school’s entire tableau of men’s track and field offerings.
“Shock is the perfect word for it,” said Bugg, who competed at Maryland between 1998 and 2002. “I can’t imagine the University of Maryland without a men’s track and field team. I’m biased because I spent so much time competing for the team. It was four of the greatest years of my life, and I credit that time for making me the man I am today.”
It was a difficult day for all of the affected sports, including acrobatics and tumbling (formerly competitive cheerleading), men’s and women’s swimming, men’s tennis and women’s water polo. And while athletic director Kevin Anderson insisted in a letter to Terrapin Club members that no final decisions have been made about the long-term fate of any team, the likely cuts stung track alums hard.
Some of it is because of the storied history of the program. Maryland won every ACC meet between 1956 and the 1980 indoor meet and produced eight individual NCAA champions, including former world record-holder Renaldo Nehemiah.
Funding for the program eventually plummeted, and diminishing results soon followed. Maryland has not finished better than sixth in an ACC meet since 1990.
Nonetheless, the commission’s recommendation was a jolt. Campus president Wallace D. Loh is scheduled to make a final decision on the fate of the teams by the end of the year.
“When you look at the tradition of the Maryland track team, on the one hand it is not a revenue-producing sports, so of course something like this could happen,” said Andre Lancaster, a sprinter at Maryland between 1976 and 1980 and was the ACC champion in the 200 meters in 1977. “With what Maryland track means to me, this bothers me. … It’s almost like losing a child. It’s beyond words.”
The commission’s recommendations were aimed at correcting growing financial difficulties within the athletic department, which exhausted its reserve funds during the last school year. With 27 teams, Maryland offers more teams than any ACC school other than Boston College (31) and North Carolina (28).
At 19, the Terps would have more teams than only three conference schools. And they would be the first ACC school without a men’s track team — a fact not lost on program alums.
“I think it’s the most I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter since I got both,” Bugg said. “Even folks that didn’t run at Maryland, that I ran high school track with, folks I ran against at Clemson, Florida State, other ACC schools, Virginia, I’ve been trying to let them know. I’m just trying to get the word out. It’s insane.”
Like Bugg, both Lancaster and Greg Robertson — who won four straight ACC titles in the 110-meter hurdles while competing from 1975 to 1979 and is a member of the M Club Hall of Fame — credited their time with the track program for helping them succeed throughout their lives.
Robertson was stung that others probably won’t enjoy similar opportunities through the track program.
“With the economy and the new athletic director, I kind of felt it wasn’t going to be long,” said Robertson, who works for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. “The only problem is it helps a lot of African-American people. They gave a lot of African-Americans a chance to get a scholarship and further their education.”
For program alums, the likely severing of the sport probably would damage their relationship with Maryland. Lancaster and Robertson said they remain close with many of their old teammates and often meet up at home track meets that could soon not exist.
But the impact could go beyond a sense of connection.
“When the M Club calls and wants me to contribute to the school, it’s going to be a hard thing because I know my money’s not going to the same place that gave me a scholarship,” said Lancaster, who works as an engineer with Kaiser Permanente.
Then there’s Bugg, who practices law in Virginia and the District. He’s 31, possesses a strong emotional tie to the school and is professionally successful. That’s the profile of the sort of donor Maryland must cultivate to eventually create long-term financial stability within its athletic department.
The end of the track program would not make the athletic department’s sales pitch to him any easier.
“As much as it would pain me, I think my relationship with the school would be zero,” Bugg said. “I’m a season ticket holder for football and basketball, [and there’s] no way I would renew them. I’d have no track team to support, so no reason to come to campus or spend any money on merchandise. School was more than just track for me, but I wouldn’t feel like a Terp anymore.”
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About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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