Cuts at Maryland Could Have Been Avoided
By Steve Jones
Twenty-seven sports. One team.
That was once the unifying theme of the University of Maryland athletic department. Not anymore.
The university officially dropped seven sports July 2. The Terrapins will no longer field teams in men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, men's indoor track and field, men's cross country, water polo and acrobatics/tumbling (formerly known as competitive cheer). The men's outdoor track and field program, initially targeted for elimination, has raised enough money to survive.
Maryland's athletic department shrunk from 27 teams to 20. Only five ACC schools (Georgia Tech -- 15, Miami -- 15, Wake Forest -- 16, Florida State -- 18, Clemson -- 19) have fewer teams, despite the fact that Maryland has the second-largest undergraduate enrollment of all conference schools, behind Florida State. Only Miami, with six, has fewer men's teams than Maryland's eight.
Athletic budget deficits prompted the move, which didn't take many people by surprise. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a significant amount of sadness and regret. More than 100 student-athletes, many of whom came to Maryland because they could compete in an intercollegiate sport, will still have the opportunity to keep their scholarships and stay in College Park. But they won't be heading to practice or taking memorable road trips with their teammates.
For athletic director Kevin Anderson and school president Wallace Loh, the decision was about money. Attendance is down considerably for the top two revenue-producing sports, football and men's basketball.
Since drawing an all-time-high average of more than 52,000 per game to 54,000-seat Byrd Stadium in 2005, football attendance has fallen significantly. Even as the Terps went to four bowl games during five years, from 2006-10, fewer fans supported Maryland football. Attendance hit a low average of 39,168 in 2010, before climbing to 42,355 per game last fall, thanks in part to an attractive home schedule that included Miami, West Virginia, Clemson and Virginia.
Last winter, the men's basketball program averaged 13,181 people for all games, and less than 15,000 for Atlantic Coast Conference games in the 17,950-seat Comcast Center. Only the North Carolina and Duke games were sellouts. A few years ago, all of the ACC contests were packed to capacity.
Compounding the drop-off in attendance were two decisions university officials made. It started with the previous administration's call to construct 63 luxury suites at Byrd Stadium. Maryland spent more than $50 million on renovations to the Tyser Tower, which included the suites. It's been several years since the suites were completed, and more than a third of them are still unsold.
Another controversial move was the firing of longtime head football coach Ralph Friedgen in December 2010, after a 9-4 season, which included a victory in the Military Bowl. The move angered many Terrapin loyalists. When he was let go, Friedgen had one year remaining on his contract, and Maryland was forced to pay its former coach the $2 million he was owed.
The programs that were targeted for elimination were forced to raise significant sums of money in order to survive. Outdoor track and field got close enough to its target that the school decided to keep the sport, but for the rest of the programs, it wasn't nearly enough. If not for the expenses of suite construction and Friedgen's salary, would those sports have been forced out?
The decision to drop more than a quarter of the entire sports program could have been avoided. The cutting of seven teams diminishes the Maryland athletic department and has a negative effect on the student-athletes.
Joe Mathews has built a strong women's basketball program at Towson University, and recently received a contract extension that keeps him coaching at the school through the 2014-15 season.
Since taking over as the Tigers' head coach in 2001-02, Mathews has improved the program. Before he arrived, Towson had endured five losing seasons during six years. Mathews has guided his teams to 15 or more wins during five of the last six seasons. Last winter, the Tigers finished with a 16-14 record, which included victories against in-state rivals Mount St. Mary's, UMBC, Coppin State, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Loyola.
Terrapin Booters Look To Continue Success
Although many of Maryland's athletic teams have undergone significant changes during the past two years, the men's soccer team has remained one of the school's steadiest success stories. Coach Sasho Cirovski's booters consistently contend for the ACC championship, and have made numerous trips to the NCAA tournament. A national champion in 1968, 2005 and 2008, Maryland has reached the Sweet 16 for 10 consecutive seasons. In addition to competing in one of the nation's top soccer conferences, the Terrapins have augmented their 2012 schedule with quality non-league opponents in an effort to strengthen their chances for another NCAA berth.
The Terrapins, who return eight starters from last year's 14-4-3 team, will kick off the season with the same opponent that ended their 2011 campaign when they visit Louisville for the season opener. The Redbirds beat Maryland during the round of 16 last year. Two strong Pacific-12 opponents are up next, as UCLA and California-Berkeley come to Ludwig Field. Maryland will also face non-conference foes UMBC, Old Dominion, Georgia State, the College of Charleston, Rutgers, Colgate and Lehigh.
During his 15 years as the associate athletics director for media relations and marketing at Johns Hopkins, Ernie Larossa has served his school and the media with distinction. In June, Larossa received the Irving T. Marsh Award from the Eastern College Athletic Conference Sports Information Directors Association. The Marsh Award is presented annually to one university division and one college division sports information professional that has exhibited excellence in the field.
McDaniel College women's basketball coach Becky Martin also earned a high honor recently, when the 1980 graduate of then-Western Maryland College was inducted into the charter class of the Middle Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame. A four-sport athlete from 1976-80, Martin participated in volleyball, basketball, softball, and track and field for the Green Terror. She has posted a 454-310 career record while coaching the McDaniel women's basketball team for the past 31 years.
The Navy football program doesn't begin Big East play until 2015, but school officials aren't waiting until then to make facility improvements. The Naval Academy Athletic Association will spend approximately $16 million to increase the seating capacity of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by 3,000-4,000 seats.
The expansion will boost the stadium's capacity to about 38,000, which is in line with most of Navy's future Big East opponents that play in on-campus stadiums. Club-level seating and new high-definition video boards will also be a part of the stadium, which opened in September 1959.
Issue 175: July 2012