Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank promised to contribute $25 million to the University of Maryland to help pay for a planned $155 million athletics and academic complex — a project that was unanimously endorsed Thursday by a Board of Regents committee.
With the commitment of Plank, which will be formally announced by the university on Friday, the university now has pledges for about $45 million of the $95 million in private donations it will need for the project, said university President Wallace D. Loh. The rest of the money will come from the university and the state.
The project, to be considered by the full board at its Dec. 12 meeting, will remake the 59-year-old Cole Field House into an indoor football practice facility with a sports medicine center and student entrepreneurship lab.
"This is for every student on campus," said Plank, a former Maryland special teams football player. "It's not going to be exclusive to athletes, but it will be based and housed within the new Cole Field House."
The $155 million plan for Cole was endorsed unanimously Thursday on a voice vote during a meeting of the regents' Committee on Finance following a presentation by Loh.
"I think this is a great preservation of Cole," said regent and donor Barry Gossett.
"I do think this is one of those projects we will be able to raise money for," regent Tom McMillen said at the meeting. He backs the project but noted that the state could be entering a period of austerity under a newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan, who has pledged to cut spending.
The university has longer-range athletic development plans as well, including the eventual replacement of Ludwig Field, home of the men's and women's soccer teams.
"We have a long-term feasibility study for the entire university, and part of that feasibility study would include building a new soccer facility," said Kevin Anderson, the university's athletic director. "It would update the current facility now. Our goal is to have the best facilities in the country within reason, and I think this would enhance what we already have."
It is too soon to estimate the cost of a new soccer field, which is not part of the current fundraising campaign.
Also on the school's future planning blueprints is a proposal to build new academic buildings on the site of the existing football practice fields in the center of campus, Loh said in an interview.
"That's what the heart of campus should have," Loh said.
The practice fields are moving to a site adjacent to Cole.
Loh is fond of likening college sports to the front porch of a house — not the most important part of the structure, but a highly visible one. Because the Cole project includes academics, Loh said it "provides a connection between the porch and the rest of the house."
The sports medicine and performance center would be a partnership between the university, the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical System, with the goal of increasing access to the best sports medicine while also exploring "innovative solutions to improve human performance."
The university hopes to complete the football facility by April 2017.
The project comes 21/2 years after Maryland eliminated seven varsity sports because of budget constraints. A university commission said last year that the school was not in a position to consider restoring any of the teams.
The school joined the Big Ten last July. It will make about $98 million more during its first six years in the Big Ten than if it had remained in the Atlantic Coast Conference, according to internal emails obtained last year under a public records request.
"I continue to understand everyone's frustration and the heartache that created," Anderson said of cutting sports. He said the private dollars that will fund most of the current project "have been earmarked, and people have come forward and said they are looking forward to having a project like this."
The reality is that it can be easier to solicit money for marquee sports such as football than to keep non-revenue-producing sports operating.
"Operational dollars are hard to raise money for," said Tim Leonard, athletic director at Towson, which dropped men's soccer before he arrived in 2013.
While Leonard said he is committed to all the teams, "what is mainstream in our culture is football and basketball."