By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun
6:30 PM EST, November 21, 2011
Maryland president Wallace D. Loh announced Monday his "heart-wrenching" decision to eliminate eight of the university's 27 sports teams due to severe budget issues, but he preserved for the teams the longshot possibility of being retained through supporters' fund-raising.
Loh said at a grim news conference that he had accepted the recommendations of a university commission released a week earlier that the teams be discontinued, effective July 1, to create "a leaner, stronger athletic program."
At 19 teams, Maryland would be two below the Atlantic Coast Conference average of 21.
"I want to make it very clear that this is perhaps one of the most painful and heart-wrenching decisions I've made," said Loh, who came to Maryland a year ago after serving as Iowa's provost. "This is not something that we -- any of us -- wanted to do."
The teams are men's tennis, men's track and field (indoor, outdoor and cross country), men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, women's water polo and women's acrobatics and tumbling, formerly called "competitive cheer."
At least some of the teams' supporters were still clinging to hope. In Loh's announcement, presented to media members on campus, he said he was accepting Athletic Director Kevin Anderson's suggestion that teams "be given the opportunity to raise 8 years worth of total program costs by June 30, 2012, in order to keep the program in existence."
The fund-raising targets are steep -- ranging from $8 million for water polo and women's tennis combined, to $11.6 million for men's and women's swimming and diving.
"This will not be an easy task," Anderson said in a written statement in which he said he would be willing to commit two development staff members full time to the cause.
It was not immediately clear how many of the teams intended to launch efforts to raise the needed money. Supporters of the swim team (men's and women's) are among those that said they are willing to try.
"There are certainly lofty goals that have been set for us, but the motto of the Maryland fight song is, "Keep on going, don't give in,'" said former Maryland swimmer Kevin Reardon. Reardon said supporters have formed a non-profit organization, Save Maryland Swimming and Diving, Inc., to endow the program.
Becky Yep (Mount Hebron), a distance runner on the women's track team, said: "I definitely don't think we've ruled it out. If we're going to go down, we're probably going to go down fighting." While the women's team was not being discontinued, its members regard the entire track program as one.
Asked about raising funds, senior sprinter Floyd Hawkes (Western Tech) said: "I believe that is the plan going forward."
The school said it will honor its athletic scholarship commitments and affected coaches' contracts.
Some athletes may be faced with difficult choices. "Most of the athletes are going to have two plans," said Mike Halligan, a 1979 graduate whose daughter, Amy, is a sophomore on the swim team. "One, the students will have to look at it from a positive sense that their parents can do this. At the same time, the athletes who want to continue swimming also have to have a plan in place to look elsewhere."
Said John Tynan, whose son, Matthew, is a freshman on the team: "The athletes are going to have to make a decision at some point in the future, so we'd like some sort of assurance from the university that if we get to a certain dollar amount by February 1, they'd be willing to continue the program."
After the recommendations were made, Anderson went from team to team with the bad news. Some athletes cried when they heard their teams were endangered.
"This last month has been one of the most difficult times in my life," the athletic director said. "The only thing I can equate it to is losing some family members."
But Anderson said he retained hope. "We are in the planning stages of putting together a fund-raising program to help save all these teams. I wouldn't be sitting up here in front of you if I didn't think that we had the possibility to raise these funds," he said.
The M Club, an organization of former Terps athletes, said it would make $1 million available to the fundraising effort to try to preserve the teams.
The M Club did not endorse the recommendation to discontinue the teams, saying in a written reply that the "primary priority should be to finding ways to save these teams from being cut."
Former Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow had long resisted cutting sports. She left in 2010 and is now the athletic director at North Carolina State.
But the commission's report said the economic model was not sustainable, and Loh said Monday that the athletic department's deficit was years in the making. "We must live within our means," Loh said. The accumulating deficit is anticipated to rise to about $8.7 million by the end of the 2013 fiscal year without action by the school.
Part of the problem is that unsold luxury suites remain in Tyser Tower, the $50.8 million football stadium modernization project that opened in 2009. The Sun reported last week that university-hired consultants had surveyed area corporations and other potential suite buyers in 2004 and found "a very low level of interest."
Reached by email, Yow said it would be inappropriate for her to comment since she is no longer at Maryland.
Commission co-chair Barry Gossett said Monday that "I don't think we were trying to play a blame game. The decisions she made, she didn't make by herself in a vacuum."
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.
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