Duffner's empty hot seat Maryland: A $700,000 loss in ticket revenue added to continuing losses on field could make Thursday the last home game for Terps coach.

November 12, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The question is asked: Can Maryland afford to fire Mark Duffner and buy out the final year of his contract?

An analysis of the university's finances and its dependence upon football revenue, however, begs a different question: Can the athletic department afford to keep Duffner?

Maryland (4-5) closes out its home schedule Thursday night against Georgia Tech (5-3). Athletic director Debbie Yow will not address the issue, but there are signs that it will be Duffner's final game at Byrd Stadium. His fourth losing season in five years seems certain, but Duffner appears oblivious to the chorus calling for him to go.

"I'm hanging on; that's the only way to be," said Duffner, when asked about his chances of remaining at Maryland. "We still have two games left. I'm not ready to say we're out of anything yet."

Attendance is critical to Duffner and Maryland.

The Terps' bowl and television revenue continue to improve because of the Atlantic Coast Conference's profit-sharing plan, but Maryland will come up short of projections in ticket revenue this year. Yow said she knew that sales would drop because of a weak home schedule, but the team's performance hasn't helped either. Duffner is 19-34 in five seasons. Since a 4-0 start last year, Maryland has gone 6-10.

When Yow discusses increased funding for women's sports, balancing the budget and further reducing an athletic department deficit that has been cut from $6.8 million to $5.7 million, she says she is counting on football to produce greater revenue. So did her predecessors, who arranged for $43 million in improvements to Byrd Stadium and the football team house.

Thus far, Maryland hasn't been able to fill Byrd's 48,000 seats unless the opponent is an attractive one. Maryland's attendance and ticket revenue are clearly cyclical. They go up in odd-numbered years, when border rivals Virginia and West Virginia are on the schedule, and drop in even-numbered years.

Two years ago, Maryland generated $1.68 million in ticket revenue. Last year, with Virginia and West Virginia at Byrd and a homecoming game against Clemson, Maryland cleared $1.95 million in ticket revenue. Jamie Pollard, an associate athletic director, said that Maryland could bring in as little as $1.25 million in ticket revenue this year.

"We're going to generate about $700,000 less for ticket sales in 1996 than we did in 1995," said Yow, who cited two reasons for the drop. "The popular half of our ACC schedule was not played at home this season. The other [reason] is, clearly, our record.

"There's a net loss of $700,000, but it's not a net loss to our budget, because we were conservative. We budgeted $300,000 less. The net loss is $400,000. It's an issue, because we still have to balance the budget."

Duffner's backers say that Yow hurt this year's ticket sales when she sold what would have been the best draw at home, Florida State, to a Fort Lauderdale promoter for $1 million. Yow said that Maryland will net at least $400,000 more from the game at Pro Player Stadium than it would had it been played at Byrd.

Duffner, meanwhile, didn't do the marketing department any favors when he asked Yow to water down the non-conference schedule. Maryland opened with Northern Illinois, one of the lowest-ranked major-college teams in the nation, and Alabama-Birmingham, a first-year member of Division I-A.

What do smaller crowds cost Maryland? If the Terps' offense hadn't fallen apart, and they had been able to draw 5,000 more fans for the N.C. State and Wake Forest games, it would have meant an additional $175,000 to the athletic department.

Maryland led the nation in attendance increase last year, but this year's average is 31,334. That's an improvement on 1994, but cheaper season-ticket plans will produce less revenue than came in two years ago.

With the return of the NFL to Baltimore, was it realistic to expect Maryland to average 38,000 fans this year, a figure that Yow's staff projected in its balanced annual budget? Maybe not, but Terps fans have turned out for a winner in the past against stiff box-office competition.

In 1975, when Maryland set its attendance record, Ted Marchibroda had an NFL playoff team in Baltimore and George Allen already had taken the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl. Jerry Claiborne had the Terps rolling then, and Bobby Ross had them winning in the mid-1980s. But the last decade has been a dismal one for Maryland, with six victories, in 1990 and 1995, being the high-water mark.

Maryland will not have great difficulty making up the lost revenue and balancing this year's budget. The ACC is more prosperous than ever, and member schools can expect an additional $200,000 in unanticipated revenue this year. Last month, the NCAA asked Maryland to again host the men's lacrosse tournament, and that could mean an additional $100,000.

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