In unusual move, Maryland directs some athletics funds to mental health counseling

The Baltimore Sun

A University of Maryland commission released its report today on how the school can best  transition into the Big Ten. I wrote two stories on this.

One is on how Maryland believes the time is not right to restore any of the seven previously dropped athletic teams. The school is facing a $21 million operating deficit -- much of it because the ACC continues to withhold millions of dollars in shared conference revenues as part of its dispute with the school over exit fees. The other story is on a new capital campaign to fund a long-anticipated indoor practice facility.

There’s another item that caught my attention. President Wallace Loh said in a letter to the university community that he was redirecting $500,000 per year in athletic department monies “to fund expanded mental health counseling services for all students.”

It’s unusual, although certainly not unprecedented, for athletic departments to fund non-athletic programs.

This particular funding comes from Pepsi’s deal that allows the soft drink maker broad access to campus venues. Loh decided to move some of the proceeds from the deal to mental health counseling.

I had a feeling that Loh’s interest in counseling was influenced by the horrific February incident in which a university student shot two other students, one fatally, before killing himself.

At a vigil following the shooting, Loh had become emotional.

"Each of us is asking, what do we need to change to prevent or mitigate the chances of something like this happening?" he had said.

When I asked about the new funding this week, Loh mentioned the shooting without prompting.

“You remember we had this tragedy last winter,” he said. “Mental health issues is the number one issue among students across this whole country. Everybody is scrambling to increase mental health resources. So here’s an opportunity.

"I talked to Kevin Anderson. He is an athletic director, but he is a university statesperson. He sees the interest of the university as a whole, not just athletics. And he said. ‘Look, I’m willing to let you have some of my money because you have an emergency need. I don’t want to have another student shot and killed.' "

The funding will be effective immediately.

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