COLLEGE PARK -- For years, the University of Maryland has chartered flights to carry the football team to games at Duke and the other schools in North Carolina.
But not this season.
In one of many telling symptoms of the rough economy on college athletics, the Terps will travel by bus to and from Duke - a 270-mile trip - for the Oct. 24 game. The university estimates the savings at $80,000. The athletic department is also exploring taking buses one way - and flying the other - for games at Wake Forest on Oct. 10 and North Carolina State on Nov. 7, administrators said in interviews.
The athletic department also said it is saving $100,000 by switching to CDs instead of printing media guides. Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen declined to comment.
The moves reflect an economic recession that has curbed fans' spending on college sports. Season ticket sales for Maryland football games have fallen about 8 percent compared with this time a year ago, according to figures recently supplied by the athletic department.
That leaves a season-ticket shortfall of $750,000 that Maryland hopes will shrink to between $600,000 and $650,000 as the season approaches, according to Randy Eaton, a senior associate athletics director for finances.
"The discretionary spending of fans is the first expense to go in times of financial stress," Eaton said in an e-mail reply to Baltimore Sun questions. "That becomes a considerable concern for those of us in Division I intercollegiate athletics settings, where our budgets are largely dependent on ticket sales, merchandise and concessions."
Overall, the football budget - $9.7 million for 2009-2010 - was reduced $301,535, or about 3.1 percent, Eaton said.
Men's basketball, which has a $4.4 million budget, was trimmed $137,786, or about 3.1 percent. Women's basketball saw its budget - about $2.6 million - cut $61,583, or about 2.4 percent. Specific cuts for both basketball teams will be determined after their schedules are released, Maryland officials said.
Other sports are affected as well. "We sought reductions of 9 percent of operating budgets from our Olympic sports," Eaton said. The Olympic sports include swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics, tennis and other sports.
Some universities have resorted to eliminating athletic teams. The University of Vermont dropped baseball and softball earlier this year. The University of Washington dropped men's and women's swimming.
Said Maryland athletic director Deborah Yow: "I'm pretty steadfast on the 27 [sports]. We're just going to get through this period."
Other Atlantic Coast Conference schools are taking steps similar to Maryland's. Virginia Tech said the football team will travel to Maryland by bus for the Nov. 14 game - a trip that takes about five hours. Miami said the team will bus to South Florida and Central Florida rather than fly.
Virginia customarily buses to Maryland, and will do so again for the Oct. 17 game. Virginia athletics spokesman Jim Daves said the school has also decided to begin taking buses to games at the North Carolina schools.
"The bottom line is Maryland is in the norm in our attempts to curtail expenses without damaging in any significant way the student-athlete experience," Yow said in an e-mail. "Scholarships are fully intact, as are tutoring services, etc. Longer trips will continue to be by air."
Eaton said administrative budget cuts - to units such as ticket offices, sports information and the business office - absorbed most of the cuts.
In May, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group, said declining athletics revenues have become out of balance with a "runaway train of spending."
Longtime NCAA consultant Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University in Kentucky, said schools ultimately need to examine big-ticket items such as salaries and scholarships if they are serious about reducing budgets.
"Travel is about 7 or 8 percent of the budget," Fulks said. "Even if you cut your team travel in half, that's just 4 percent. And [cutting] media guides? I don't understand that one."
Terps' big three forced to trim away budgets
Sport 2009-10 budget Reduction Percent decrease Football $9.7 million $301,535 3.1
Men's basketball $4.4 million $137,786 3.1
Women's basketball $2.6 million $61,583 2.4