Boosters Help Terps Ditch Buses For Planes

Maryland Gridiron Network Raises $46,000 So Football Team Can Fly

August 20, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland football supporters have raised about $46,000 so the Terps can fly round trip to games at Wake Forest and North Carolina State instead of taking the bus one way.

"It's nice knowing there is the possibility of making a difference," said Larry Grabenstein, chairman of the Maryland Gridiron Network, a booster group that raises money for special football projects. "Many universities are experiencing these types of fiscal pressures for the first time in a while, and it's because of the nature of the recession."

While booster money has been used for many other football expenses - including X-ray machines, video equipment and knee braces for linemen - it is not common practice for the travel budget to be supplemented in this way. The fundraising comes at a time when the University System of Maryland has announced plans to cut $37.8 million from the 2010 budget.

The $46,000 will enable the team to take charter flights to and from the games as it did in the past, according to the university.

"A number of people inquired as to how they can make contributions to maintain the status quo in terms of travel arrangements," Grabenstein, who is one of the donors, told The Baltimore Sun. "The money is now there to be utilized."

With ticket sales down, universities across the nation are trimming athletic budgets and looking for financial help. "Donors [at some schools] are covering specific line-item expenses," said Paul Swangard of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. "It would be fair to say it was much rarer before to have donors have to step up in that way."

The Sun reported last week that the football budget - $9.7 million for 2009-10 - was reduced $301,535, or about 3.1 percent. To save money, the university plans to send the Terps by bus to and from Duke - a 270-mile trip - for the Oct. 24 game. The university estimates the savings at $80,000.

The athletic department had also been considering using buses one way - and charter flights the other - for games at Wake Forest on Oct. 10 and North Carolina State on Nov. 7. The resulting $46,000 in savings will help offset declines in season-ticket sales, the department said.

Grabenstein said Maryland boosters were quick to step up. "It's not like we needed to have a covered-dish supper to raise funds," Grabenstein said. "Our good fans are as good as anybody's good fans."

Grabenstein said most of the donors are MGN members. Asked how many are contributing, he replied: "More than two and fewer than 100." The money is being pooled by MGN.

Maryland may still bus to and from Duke. The Terps have a week off after that trip, so coaches would have more time than usual to begin preparing for the next game.

But on other trips, players and coaches could be at a competitive disadvantage from long bus rides.

Kevin Lempa, a Maryland assistant defensive coach, said he didn't mind most bus trips. "When I was at Dartmouth, we would take a video bus. You can stretch out and watch a movie," he said.

But Lempa said coaches typically must be in their offices early Sunday morning grading players on game film from the day before.

A night game in North Carolina followed by a lengthy bus ride would get the coaches home hours past midnight. "That would not be good," Lempa said.

All Maryland coaches - in football and other sports - were subject to up to five days of furloughs, ending last spring. The number of days was tied to their salary. Many coaches chose to work on their furlough days even though they were not being paid.

"The furloughs were a state-mandated initiative, and since we're all state employees, everyone at [the athletic department] - including coaches - had to take furlough days," said Brian Ullmann, a senior associate athletic director. "It's also important to note that the savings did not come back to [athletics] - it went to offset university budget reductions."

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