COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland held back letters of intent to high-school recruits of three sports — men's swimming, women's swimming, and women's water polo — an indication that those teams have showed up with others on a list of sports recommended for elimination, multiple school officials said.
While no final decisions have been made on cutting sports, officials said between three and 10 teams are endangered after showing up on the list compiled by a president's commission studying remedies to severe athletics budget issues that have been years in the making.
The commission, which is studying ways to boost revenue and cut costs, is on schedule to issue its recommendations by Nov. 15 to university president Wallace Loh, said Brian Ullmann, a Maryland assistant vice president.
Word that teams were being targeted set off ripples of anxiety on campus Wednesday.
Mike Halligan, a 1979 Maryland graduate and the father of swim-team member Amy Halligan, said he walked into Loh's office in the administration building and left his diploma and class ring in protest. Loh was not in the office at the time.
"This is a show of solidarity with my daughter and the team," said Halligan, a building-materials sales executive and a member of the Terrapin Club. "If they cut the team, I cut my ties to the university."
Maryland's athletic department has a projected deficit of $4.7 million in the current fiscal year. The figure is anticipated to rise to about $17 million by the 2015 fiscal year without action by the school.
The president's commission had said all options would be on the table as it studied ways to close the gap between expenses and revenue. In recent years, the department's operating budget has been balanced by tapping now-depleted reserves.
Maryland had long resisted cutting sports. The school has 27 teams — 15 for women and 12 for men. The average number of teams at the Atlantic Coast Conference's eight public universities is 22.
In July — a year after former athletic director Deborah Yow left for a similar position at N.C. State — Loh created the commission, saying it was needed to help restore budget stability. Yow, who led Maryland's athletic department for 16 years, was steadfast about preserving teams.
Current athletic director Kevin Anderson, who came to Maryland from Army 13 months ago, said he could not comment while the commission and Loh do their work.
According to Halligan, Anderson had met with the swim team on Tuesday. It is not certain what he said.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the swimming and diving teams were "bracing" for news about their programs. People associated with the teams launched a Facebook site — which had nearly 7,000 members Wednesday night — to support those programs.
Athletic budgets depend heavily on ticket sales, merchandise and concessions. Maryland has had to absorb a significant hit because of disappointing suite and premium-seat sales at the modernized Tyser Tower, part of Byrd Stadium.
The annual debt service on the new tower — which opened in September 2009 — is $2.3 million.
If all the suites were sold, the school would net about $2.8 million in annual revenue — enough to pay the debt service and have $500,000 left over, according to documents supplied to The Sun, including some under a public-records request.
But Tyser, which cost about $50.8 million, opened with 31 of its 63 suites unsold. Twenty suites remain unsold today, as do nearly 200 mezzanine seats.
The most recent annual revenue figures from Tyser's suites and mezzanine seats were $1.93 million and $627,810, respectively — a total of $2.56 million. Analysts say sales have been hurt by the economy, losing records (the football team was 2-10 in 2009 and is 2-7 this year) and by competition for suite sales from the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and other area teams.
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