Cuts will diminish Maryland if solutions can't be found

Money still could be found to save programs targeted in cost-saving move

November 15, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Maybe to you it's no big deal.

Maybe you're not an athlete on one of the eight teams the University of Maryland might cut because of budget problems.

Or maybe you don't have a kid at College Park who's affected by all this.

So you think: so what? Can't the school live without men's tennis and track and field, and women's water polo and acrobatics and tumbling?

Is it the end of the world not to field swimming and diving teams for both sexes?

No, probably not. It's not like they're getting rid of the library. Or shutting down the classrooms or labs. Or — God forbid — closing some bars on Route 1. You want to see campus outrage? That last one would do it.

But if you believe in the value of competitive sports, if you believe they enrich the college experience and promote all those corny ideals (dedication, teamwork, sacrifice for the common good, etc.) we're always trying to drum into the pointy little heads of our kids, then you realize this: Maryland is a diminished university if these cuts go through.

I say "if" because there's still a chance — maybe even a good one — that some of the teams survive the chopping block. Kevin Anderson, Maryland's athletic director, stressed that "no final decisions on any outcomes have been made."

So what happens now is predictable. The eight threatened teams will go into survivor mode, with athletes and parents and coaches mounting massive PR campaigns to save their sport.

And the Maryland athletic department will go back and comb through the budget again to see whether it overlooked a few bucks that might save a team or two, the equivalent of looking under the sofa cushions for loose change.

At the same time, school officials might put the arm on generous wealthy alums like Under Armour boss Kevin Plank, who's already a savior for providing Maryland's new football uniforms.

Plank could probably reach into the company's petty-cash drawer and save all eight teams. Then again, that's easy for me to say. It's not my money.

Here's another thought: Maryland could take some of that $400,000 it's paying Gary Williams to be the closer on its fundraising efforts.

Gary will probably spit out his coffee when he reads that. And he'll probably never speak to me again. But it's not a stretch. He's already made his millions at Maryland. And he loves the school. I could see him giving up a few paychecks to save a few sports.

So how did Maryland get in this mess, with expenses so out of whack with revenues that teams might have to be cut? It's not terribly hard to figure out.

Basically, the school was clobbered by a financial Perfect Storm: a sour economy, an ambitious former athletic director who failed to heed warnings about a costly stadium renovation project, and declining revenues from the cash-cow sports of football and men's basketball while expenses for scholarships and other costs kept soaring.

Of all three, maybe it was the Tyser Tower project that hurt Maryland most. This was the $50.8 million makeover of Byrd Stadium two years ago that included the building of 63 luxury suites with plush carpeting, sleek furniture and flat-screen TVs.

It was championed by Debbie Yow, the former athletic director, who now has the same job at North Carolina State. I was a big fan of Yow's when she was at College Park. She did a lot of good for the school. But this wasn't her finest cause.

The school was warned that competition for luxury suites was keen in this market. Comcast Center was right next door. FedEx Field and MCI (now Verizon) Center were just down the street. And Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium were only 30 miles north.

Still, Yow envisioned the Tyser suites filled on football Saturdays with well-heeled businessmen and alums sipping wine and dining on shrimp and steak and gazing down at exciting ACC football games that would make them want to come back again and again.

Didn't happen. At least not to the extent everyone hoped for.

The economy tanked. The market for suites went south. The football team wasn't very good. And to this day, 20 suites remain unsold.

When construction was completed in 2009, the suites went for between $40,000 and $85,000 a pop. Even if the price has come down because of lessened demand, that's a lot of revenue Maryland is missing out on.

Think that wouldn't pay for a few cans of tennis balls? Or some tumbling mats? Or new Speedos for the swim teams?

Instead, we have a big-time school cutting teams because of a lack of funds.

How sad is that?

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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