Maryland commission recommends six sports be eliminated

A University of Maryland commission concluded that the school cannot adequately support 27 teams and recommended eliminating eight of them to create "a leaner, stronger athletic program."

The teams, which compete in six different sports, 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."

The 17-member commission suggested Maryland has had to spread itself thin with so many teams -- five more than the average for the Atlantic Coast Conference's public universities. It said Maryland invests $67,389 per athlete, which ranks it 13th out of 14 schools in the newly reconfigured ACC, and that conference-leading Florida State spends $118,813.

University president Wallace Loh, who created the commission in July, is expected to make the final decisions about the teams within the next few weeks after weighing input from athletic director Kevin Anderson and others.

There was a sense from the report that the commission members found the recommendations unpleasant, but necessary. The commission was headed by Board of Regents chair Barry Gossett and Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement.

"I recognize that the recommendation to reduce the number of intercollegiate sports is distressing and saddening to the student-athletes, their families, coaches, and supporters," Loh said in a written statement . "My intention is to not unduly draw out this time of uncertainty."

The Commission said it "came to the painful conclusion that continuing to support 27 teams, with the current budget, would not meet the goal of having every sponsored team and student athlete be supported at the level needed to succeed" academically and athletically.

In weighing which teams to target, the panel said it considered a number of factors. The factors included gender equity, the competitive success of each of the school's sports, adequacy of the sports' facilities and fan support.

The commission wrote that starting in the 2006 fiscal year, "there have been declines in revenues in a number of areas, including football and men's basketball, and in fundraising." It said scholarship costs and other expenses have increased. If the teams were eliminated, the number of athletes would go from 763 to 529, according to the report.

The report is certain to set off lobbying by team members, parents and supporters. Men's and women's swim team members -- who learned last week that their teams were on the list -- have launched a Facebook campaign and waved signs at a meet last Saturday to try to save their teams.

"The fan support, the turnout -- it was electric," Mike Halligan, a 1979 Maryland graduate and the father of swim team member Amy Halligan, said. "We have to take the word of Coach (Sean) Schimmel that the process is still alive."

Feedback on the recommendations will be solicited from the athletic department, University Senate Executive Committee and the Athletic Council. Then it will be up to Loh.

Under the commission's recommendations, July 2012 would be end for eliminated Maryland athletic teams. The panel recommended that "all athletic scholarship commitments to current student athletes in these sports be honored through graduation" and coaches' contracts upheld.

"Let me assure you that the commission's report contains only recommendations, and no final decisions have been made on any outcomes at this time," Anderson, the athletic director, said in a letter to program supporters.

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 report said the current economic model was not sustainable. The athletic department's cumulative deficit is anticipated to rise to about $8.7 million by the end of the 2013 fiscal year without action by the school, according to the report.

"I want to make one thing perfectly clear, I do not wish to eliminate any athletic program, not a single one. I have devoted my professional life to building athletic programs and to enhancing the student athlete experience," Anderson said in the letter.

"While I would not wish these circumstances on anyone, I was brought to Maryland to lead and I am prepared to make the hard decisions necessary to make Maryland Athletics a model department with respect to academic, competitive and financial success and stability."

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