In the wake of Jordan McNair’s death and the ensuing firestorm at the University of Maryland, College Park, some critics have taken to social media to call for an outright end to the school’s football team.
But the program’s profitability paired with the rarity of shutdowns imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association means that’s not likely to happen.
McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman, died in June from heatstroke suffered during a team workout in May. Scathing reports about the football program’s culture emerged after McNair died, and head football coach DJ Durkin was placed on leave as the University System of Maryland Board of Regents deliberated the program’s future.
On Tuesday the board reinstated Durkin, and university President Wallace Loh announced he would retire at the end of June. But after an outcry from university stakeholders — and an altercation between teammates — Loh defied the board, firing Durkin on Wednesday. On Thursday, Board of Regents chairman James Brady resigned.
Some have expressed that Maryland’s football team requires a clean sweep and should be shut down and rebuilt from the ground up.
The NCAA has the power to invoke the “death penalty” — banning a team from competing for at least a year. But it’s an extremely rare measure that has been applied a handful of times across college sports.
The NCAA has only imposed a shutdown on one football team more than 30 years ago. In 1987, the NCAA shut down Southern Methodist University’s football program for a year for repeated violations that included illicit payments to players.
Teams that have been handed similar penalties include the University of Kentucky’s basketball team, which was shut down for a year in 1952, and the University of Southwestern Louisiana’s basketball program, which was shut down in 1973 for two seasons. The NCAA also imposed a shutdown on a Division II men’s soccer program and a Division III men’s tennis program in the mid-2000s.
Aside from shutting down programs, the NCAA can levy other sanctions against teams.
After former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges, for instance, the NCAA voided the football team’s wins between 1988 and 2011; fined the school $60 million; banned it from postseason play for four years; reduced its number of football scholarships and placed the program on probation.
Other universities have endured self-imposed sanctions. But the value that Maryland’s football team adds to the athletics department makes it unlikely the school could afford to voluntarily shut down the team.
“It would be a very aggressive and a risky move both financially and politically for the regents to try to shut down the program,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College.
Cutting the team would cost the university’s entire athletics department because the team brings in a disproportionate amount of money compared to what it spends. Maryland’s football team brought in $29.9 million in fiscal 2017 — nearly a third of the $94.88 million in revenue for the entire athletics department, which encompasses 19 varsity teams.
However, the football team accounted for merely a fifth of the department’s $94.79 million in expenses.
Zimbalist said because the football programs costs much less than it brings in, eliminating would would make tens of millions of dollars disappear — money that is now available for the other programs in the athletics department.
“That’s what people will be looking at should the question come up, ‘Should we cut our losses and get out of football?’ ” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.