COLLEGE PARK, MD - MAY 6: Athletic Director of University of Maryland Kevin Anderson speaks during announcement of the retirement of basketball coach Gary WIlliams on May 6, 2011 at the Comcast Center in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
One of the most talked about topics over the course of the last several months regarding Maryland's Athletic department was the decision to eliminate 6 sports (8 teams) from the 27 currently offered by the school. The decision to eliminate those sports is explained by the department here:
The economic downturn of recent years and declining revenues has resulted in budget shortfalls. As a result, ICA's expenditures have exceeded its revenues. For several years, the annual operating budget (including facility debt obligations) has been balanced with transfers from ICA's accumulated fund balance (or "reserves"). Reserves are normally used for purposes such as these transfers. The ICA reserves are now depleted and transfers are no longer available to support the deficit. The budget shortfalls will grow in the coming years if the finances and operations of ICA are not changed. As an auxiliary enterprise, ICA must return to being a self-supporting operation.
Recently, the fiscal situation in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) has posed a challenge to achieving excellence for our student athletes and for our athletic program.
For those who don't know, football and men's basketball are the only two sports who generate revenue for the athletic department. Ticket sales, corporate suites, television contracts, merchandise sales, etc. are all derived by those two sports. As a result, the revenue from those sports supports several non-revenue teams, allowing additional sports to take place at the school. Those additional sports cost more money than they generate. Maryland ran into a problem in that the number of non-revenue sports they were trying to support and the costs associated with them was exceeding the revenue brought in by the football and basketball program. So rather than eliminating sports several years ago, the department took money from their reserves to maintain a balanced budget. While it's okay to do that on occasion, relying on something like that year in and year out is not a sustainable business model. The department experienced this first hand by continuing to use those reserves until they were depleted. That put Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and President Wallace Loh in the position of having to eliminate these teams and that decision, in my opinion, was the correct one.
Our football and basketball programs don’t generate enough revenue to support a 27 team athletic model. We don’t have a large enough and popular enough football program. And even when the Comcast Center is sold out, football is still the big money maker and until our program establishes itself better and for a sustained period, they're just not going to generate enough revenue to support so many teams.
So how and why did we operate for so long with this many teams? Former athletic director Debbie Yow was disingenuous and irresponsible with the department’s finances. Plain and simple. New teams were added and others weren't eliminated. Additionally, the decision to expand the suites at Byrd Stadium has been one that's haunted the finances of the department as many go unused during each football game while Maryland has to continue making payments pertaining to the construction costs.
I obviously don't want any of these sports to be eliminated. I don't want to have to tell athletes who care as much about Maryland as I do that they can't compete in the sport they love anymore. But if the decision is eliminate a few sports verses having the entire department go under, I'd go with the first option.
Look around the country at the number of schools who support 27 or more teams. They’re big time schools like Michigan, which in case you didn’t know sells out a 100,000+ seat stadium on Saturdays in the fall. That's not Maryland. We don't have that football cash cow that some of the big time schools rely on.
Another topic that's been discussed a lot was the decision to allow each of the sports being cut to try to raise enough money to keep them afloat and requiring them to have enough money to establish an 8 year endowment to sustain that program. I personally thought this was a great idea because sometimes people respond best to things being eliminated. If enough support for these programs existed out there, this was the best way to get that money in the door.
Requiring these programs to develop funding into the future is necessary because the department can’t fund and support them in their current structure. So they basically need to ensure that they have a separate source of dedicated funding so it doesn't but an additional financial strain on the department's budget.
While I don't agree with everything Kevin Anderson has done as AD at Maryland, this is one of the smartest, most fiscally responsible decisions that’s been made by the Maryland AD’s office in quite some time. Is it unfortunate? Yes. But what’s even more unfortunate is that the previous leadership allowed so many teams to compete, at the cost of other programs, when it wasn’t really a sustainable model.
I really hope that enough people support each of the teams scheduled to be eliminated and that the school can avoid having to cut them. You can help support the teams by clicking here. But if they can't get that support, eliminating those programs is the right decision for Maryland at this time. It's not the popular choice, but when you're tasked with running an entire department, you have to look out for the department as a whole.