Men’s outdoor track only team to meet its first benchmark

By Jenny Hottle / for The Diamondback
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Originally posted on diamondbackonline.com.

The athletics department eliminated seven of its 27 teams Saturday, leaving more than 100 student-athletes without programs to compete for next year, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said.

The announcement comes about seven months after university President Wallace Loh accepted a working group’s recommendation that eight teams be cut to alleviate the department’s debt. Although the teams — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, acrobatics and tumbling, men’s tennis, water polo, men’s indoor and outdoor track and men’s cross country — were given until June 30 to meet a set of fundraising benchmarks to keep their programs for at least another year, all but men’s outdoor track were unable to do so.

“[To] tell those young men and women that their programs could possibly and will now be discontinued — it’s a sad day,” Anderson said Monday.

Seventy-five of the 131 affected athletes will remain at the university next year, athletics spokesman Doug Dull said, though some are still weighing transfer options. To continue competing at the university, the teams would have had to raise between $3 million and $11 million — the money needed to compete for eight years. While some teams were given a set of benchmarks to meet instead, only outdoor track, which raised $888,000, met its first deadline.

The team, led by coach Andrew Valmon, who will also be taking the men’s national track team to London next month, must raise $1.88 million by Dec. 31 to continue competing through 2014.

For junior swimmer Anderson Sloan, Saturday’s announcement was all too familiar.

“I’m disappointed,” said Sloan, who transferred from Clemson after it announced it would cut its swimming program. “But it wasn’t looking too hopeful even in February and March. Even then, we kind of knew it was going to happen.”

The teams’ eliminations come after the commission found the athletics department, which appeared to have a balanced budget over the last several years, faced a deficit projected to reach $4.7 million in fiscal year 2011 on top of an $83 million debt.

“The whole rationale of all this is we do want to emphasize excellence, both in athletics and classroom performance, and so there’s now more resources to invest in the remaining teams,” Loh said. “It’s no longer possible to do everything for everybody, so let’s have a somewhat smaller program, but what remains is going to be absolutely at the top national level.”

But this university’s department isn’t the only program to cut teams. According to The Washington Post, athletics departments at nine out of 10 public universities that compete in “big-time sports” spent more than they made last year, and more than 200 varsity teams have been cut from NCAA Division I programs in the last five years.

“The problem has been exasperated by the fact that state funding for universities has been declining when it should have been going up,” University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan said. “This has created a real crisis of sorts for intercollegiate athletics and for the universities supporting their intercollegiate programs.

“Long-term, we have to find a way to reign in the costs of intercollegiate athletics programs. Trying to fund these programs at their current levels is just incompatible with what’s happening at our campuses as they try to meet their core academic missions,” said Kirwan, who is also the co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Kirwan added that university presidents and the NCAA conferences must work toward “a more rational fiscal model,” which Anderson said the university’s department has already begun developing.

The university is compiling a strategic plan to balance the budget by 2015, which includes ramping up fundraising efforts and garnering a stronger football and men’s basketball fan base to boost ticket sales. If the university is able to accomplish those goals and maintain spending at its current level, “we will be a better and stronger program,” Anderson said. But the department will not immediately see more money from cutting the seven teams, since affected student-athletes’ scholarships and coaches’ contracts will still be honored, Anderson added.

Some affected athletes are finding ways to continue representing the Terps. Several members of the acrobatics and tumbling team tried out for and made the university’s spirit squads, said Rose DiPaula, assistant director of media relations.

But other athletes said they decided they were done competing altogether.

“I kind of considered transferring again, but very roughly because I didn’t want to go through the whole process again,” Sloan said, adding he will try and get involved with a study abroad program since he’ll have more free time.

“If you’re on a sports team, you don’t have time to do that,” he said. “So, I’m going to try and see what else is out there and see what else I can do.”

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