RECENT DEVELOPMENTS in the University of Maryland's athletic department raise disturbing questions about the institution's priorities. The university hired Mark Duffner of Holy Cross as head football coach at a base salary of $120,000 a year. Former coach Joe Krivak, who resigned, will receive well over $200,000 for the remainder of his contract. And UM athletic director Andy Geiger announced that the academic assistant and recruiting coordinator's slot now will be hanFredMaeldled by two people on the football staff instead of one, and that UM will hire a strength coach just for the football team.
At the same time, UM has suffered bitter budget cuts over the past year that required laying off 67 employees, forcing unpaid furlough days on others and freezing wages and new hiring. One result has been the loss of many respected professors to schools paying more competitive wages (10 in the business school alone). The cuts have been a blow to efforts to make UM's College Park campus a first-rate research institution.
Against this backdrop, it is a mystery how the athletic department can give Duffner $30,000 more per year than his predecessor, with an even longer, layoff-proof contract -- or how the football team can afford new specialized positions while everyone else on campus suffers cuts, freezes and furloughs.
Many people assume that athletic department salaries are justified because the football team is a tremendous cash cow, supporting not only itself but many educational needs on campus. That is not the case, however. Maryland's athletic department had a $5 million deficit last year, and that doesn't even count all the departmental expenses that are covered from the university's general fund.
This is not just Maryland's problem, and it's not just this year: More than 90 percent of NCAA sports programs regularly lose money. A 1988 report by former Maryland professor Barbara Bergmann showed that in that year some $2 million -- almost a third of athletic department receipts -- was extracted from students in the form of athletics fees. This is not uncommon; the average Division 1 football school takes in almost $2 million from students through fees tacked on to tuition, regardless of whether the students are fans or even if they had to borrow the money.
In addition, the athletic department, instead of focusing their money on intramural athletics and the physical fitness of all students, concentrates on fielding competitive teams of elite, semi-pro players, many of whom could only charitably be called "student-athletes." Not only does the football team not support the school, the tremendous sums spent on athletic scholarships, full-time recruiters, tutors, travel and the other trappings of a full-fledged NFL or NBA farm team, divert money from scholarships for the truly needy. Does anyone realize how many inner-city kids have to be shut out of need-based scholarships in order to keep one varsity football or basketball player on the team?
All this makes the coaching salaries and staff sizes even more absurd: These people, after all, are state employees. Why are their bloated paychecks more important than those of library workers or state troopers? Why should they make more than the governor himself? Say what you will about the salaries of Glenn Davis, Cal Ripken and other pros -- at least these people operate in the private sector, and can plausibly claim to generate the income needed to pay their wages. The same cannot be said about the high-profile employees of the UM athletic department.
As for the "alumni" who demand strong sports teams and were thrilled by Duffner's appointment, they also are a fiction. Only 1 percent to 2 percent of alumni contribute to alma mater sports teams, and most alumni donations are totally unrelated to team success. Even Notre Dame alumni rated their sports team as their least important motivation for contributions.
The only groups demanding expensive sports programs are the so-called "booster clubs," a sociologically distinct group of people whose primary or only attachment to UM is to its sports program. In fact, many boosters are not even alumni. If they are anything like graduates of other schools, rank-and-file UM alumni are much more concerned about the academic prestige of UM (and of their own degrees) than they are about the football team.
As for Duffner's vaunted record of graduating team members, the real issue is: how many recruited freshmen made it through four years of school? Unless academic standards for athletes at UM are similar to those at smaller schools like Holy Cross, there simply is no basis for comparison.
Geiger and Duffner are not bad nor especially greedy people -- their compensation levels are par for their profession. The question is really whether the College Park administration should allow such inequities between sports and academic staff to continue. Towson State University's recent decision to pursue a no-recruiting, no-scholarship football program, even at the risk of defying the monopolistic NCAA, is admirable. Rather than further gutting academics and levying more taxes on students, UM might consider adopting a similar policy.
Fred Mael, an Army psychologist, writes from Baltimore.