Maryland to eliminate three aquatic programs as part of overhaul

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The Maryland men’s and women’s swimming teams, as well as the school’s water polo team, have been informed their programs will be eliminated as part of the university’s overhaul of its athletic department, a source familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

The programs are among 27 sports fielded by the university, which is facing massive athletic department financial woes. The source said more teams are expected to be eliminated before the end of the year.

Wallace D. Loh, the university president, established a 17-member commission in July to study the financially beleaguered department in an attempt to both slash expenditures and generate revenue.

Brian Ullmann, the university’s assistant vice president for marketing and communications, would not specifically discuss the status of the school’s water polo or swimming programs.

“The president’s commission on intercollegiate athletics is in the process of reviewing the finances and operations of the athletic department,” Ullmann said. “That report is scheduled to be delivered to President Loh by Nov. 15. Any comment at this time would be premature.”

However, Wednesday was the beginning of the early signing period, and it is believed the university felt it was unfair to potential athletes to allow them to sign with the school when the long-term futures of their respective sports were not yet known.

Maryland’s athletic department fields more sports than any ACC school besides Boston College (31) and North Carolina (28). But with the university acknowledging this summer its athletic department reserve funds were exhausted during the previous school year, some cuts already were expected.

The presidential commission is scheduled to submit its recommendations to Loh by Tuesday, with the school’s athletic council and athletic director Kevin Anderson both offering responses before Loh makes a final decision by the end of the year.

An athletic department spokesman said Anderson was unavailable for comment and referred all questions to Ullmann.

An often overlooked source of consternation amid Maryland’s troubles is that the athletic department does not own the facilities for either competition or practice, if not both, for 10 of its teams. The school’s athletic council manual includes “availability of facilities” among its criteria and procedures to be used in deciding to expand and curtail sports.

Both swimming teams and the water polo team rent their pool time from the university’s Eppley Recreation Center. The golf teams must pay for time on the campus course, while the tennis teams must utilize the indoor Tennis Center at College Park (an off-campus facility) when there is inclement weather.

The indoor track teams host meets at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Center in Landover, while the gymnastics team rents its practice space.

The men’s swimming program has won four ACC meets according to the Maryland athletic department website but none since 1969-70. It has not finished in the top five at the ACC meet since 1999-2000.

The women’s swim team finished fourth in the ACC the past two years and won the ACC meet in 2004-05.

Wake Forest is the only ACC without swimming programs. Miami fields men’s diving but not men’s swimming, and Clemson is in the process of phasing out both the men’s and the women’s programs. Syracuse, which accepted an invitation to join the ACC in September, also does not have swimming programs.

Meanwhile, the water polo program’s first season was 2004. It has recorded winning seasons in three of the past four years, including a 19-14 mark last season. Maryland is the only ACC school that sponsors women’s water polo.

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