Editorial: Save University of Maryland Men’s XC and Track
Thursday, 17 November 2011 19:28    PDF Print E-mail
An opinion on the crisis unfolding in Terp Town



By Greg Jubb
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Just by chance that morning, I happened to grab a “Terps Track and Field” T-shirt from my closet. Not selecting the shirt for any real purpose other than the fact that it was clean, I slipped it on, finished getting dressed, and hopped in my car as I made my way to a meeting.

Given that the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny for mid-November, I had no reason to anticipate any bad news. In fact, I was excited for the day’s events. I had a big workout planned after my meeting and I would contest that 99% of competitive distance runners would classify the conditions as nothing short of perfect.

Unbeknownst to me, though, a storm was brewing not far from me, in College Park. It was a type of storm that would not be precluded by dark clouds, nor would it be detected by a Doppler radar. Had I typed “College Park, MD” into weather.com, it probably would have read “Sunny, 72 degrees.”

This storm was metaphorical in nature. And it was a heavy hitter.

When it finally struck my home in Westminster at 4:36 p.m., I did not hear the pitter-patter of rainfall nor the deep bass of rolling thunder. Rather, I heard the “da-da-ding” ringtone from my iPhone echoing in the kitchen, signaling a text message.

One of my former teammates at the University of Maryland had sent me a short, yet devastating note.

“Men’s XC, indoor, and outdoor is getting cut.”

I felt like I had just read the obituary of a close friend.

Though I was I lost for words, I can’t say I was completely surprised. Due to sweeping budget cuts being implemented within the athletic department, the men’s and women’s swim and dive team had been informed only a few days prior that this would be their last season. They immediately took action by contacting alumni, coaches, and fellow swimmers. They also created a “Save UMD Swimming and Diving” group on Facebook—a page that now has more than 10,000 followers. To add insult to injury, rumors of 6 more program cuts had permeated the University, the press, and the entire D.C. metro area.

Despite the madness, I had been notified that track and field was not on the radar…for the time being.  I thought to myself, “Cross country and track and field are inexpensive relative to other sports. Perhaps it’ll be okay in the end.”

I still found myself bracing for impact.

Five days and one unwanted text later, I found myself weathering the aforementioned storm. After I read the text a second time—hoping and praying the words and letters would mutate into a more positive message—I dropped my head in frustration. Facing my stomach with my right hand supporting the weight of my head hung low, I couldn’t help but read “Terp’s Track and Field” across my chest.

I used to wear this shirt to represent my sport, and more importantly, my school. So much blood, sweat, and tears (quite literally at times) had been invested into what that shirt represented. It represented a program that was home to ACC and collegiate legends like Renaldo Nehemiah, Mark Coogan, and Dominic Berger. It represented a link that I shared with a litany of athletes that have truly bestowed an outstanding legacy. With more than 50 ACC Championships between cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and numerous NCAA individual champions, the University of Maryland has one the most storied programs in collegiate history. Sure, the Terps have had their dark days. But I graduated in May knowing that I was part of a corps of athletes that was pushing the program in the right direction.  Frankly, I was excited to see UMD become a contender again.

But if University President Wallace Loh approves a series of recommendations proposed by the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics—a detail of campus officials appointed in July—men’s cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track will have formally been invited to join the swim and dive team in the gallows.

If President Loh signs his name to these recommendations, then anyone who dons a UMD Track and Field shirt will not be proudly promoting a once-great men’s team, but rather a relic of the past.



WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?



As aforementioned, the primary reason for the cuts is due to a budget crisis—one that has been unfolding for several years now.

In the end, college sports are businesses. Though purely physical in nature and comprised of some of the nation’s finest athletes, they are viewed from a business perspective by the powers that be. As such, the revenue-generating sports reign supreme. By that I mean football and men’s basketball. That’s usually it.

Though they soak up funds as efficiently as many entitlement programs, I have to admit they do produce enough revenue to garner a hefty profit. In turn, that profit helps to fund the rest of an institution’s athletes. Flagship Division I schools usually rope in more than enough to support the department from football alone. In 2007-2008, the University of Texas – Austin amassed a revenue of $120,288,370.

So, what’s wrong at Maryland?


Simply put, football is not making enough revenue. Last year, football actually lost the school more than $10,000. Only men’s basketball made a profit. As if that were not bad enough, the University had been depleting a reserve account that had been keeping the other sports afloat for several years. Without hastening to bolster revenue across all fronts, it seems as if the athletic department stayed the course as if nothing was wrong. It certainly did not stop them from building Tyser Tower, a state-of-the-art slew of suites added on the south side of Byrd Stadium. The suites did not sell nearly as well as projected and the project was a failure from an economic standpoint.

Unlike others, I am not here to blame football. As I stated previously, football usually brings in a profit to sustain the other sports. As of late at UMD, though, that simply has not been the case. Perhaps it’s just time to trim the fat.

According to the University’s 2008 Fiscal Year Report, it seems as if the trimming the necessary fat from athletics was not a plan of attack. Despite the dwindling reserve account, money was flying out the door for things that I personally find extravagant.

$250,000 for the football team’s food budget? Sure. $15,000 on “book binding?” Why not? Hold on. What is “book binding,” and why doesn’t that expense show up for other teams?

Undoubtedly, the football team has a higher volume of athletes than the men’s track team—approximately five times as many bodies. So the food budget for track (a three-season program, mind you) could presumably be a fifth of the cost of football’s. Nope. $10,000.  And I am only citing one issue.

Although evidence would suggest the contrary, I must insist that I am not writing to pick on football.  I certainly think some of the gridiron gang’s funds are misappropriated but the bigger issue is mismanagement. Despite the years of tapping into the reserve fund, no legitimate efforts were made to mitigate the dilemma.


Why didn’t the previous administration begin tightening their belts? Why didn’t the school begin enhancing their efforts to raise funds and reach out to the alumni, the Terrapin Club, and the like. Albeit too late, I have quite a few questions for former athletic director Debbie Yow.

Well…the reserve fund is now completely exhausted and the athletic department has borrowed millions from an auxiliary fund to make ends meet. And now it’s November, 2011 (duh). So why did it take until July of this year to propose a revamping of the fundraising system? Said proposal was made by the very same commission that seeks to cut men’s track and field. But I think it might be a little to late to overhaul the system for the sake of saving teams.

It’s confounding to know that this issue could have been addressed along time ago. There is little evidence to  suggest that the administration was very proactive about saving minority sports from future demise. I’m sure that Head Coach Andrew Valmon would have rather sought ways to raise funds for his team for the past few years to be self-supportive than to tell a room of tearful athletes that the men’s team is soon to sing its swan song.

What’s another reason for the cuts? Arbitrary numbers and pointless rankings.


In a table that that shows how much, on average, UMD spends per athlete, the Terps were ranked 13th out of 14 schools in the newly reconfigured ACC (which  includes newcomers Pitt and Syracuse). Thinking that it will enhance the program, the athletic department believes that increasing spending per athlete and moving up the rankings will optimize a student-athlete’s experience. By cutting eight sports and 234 athletes, UMD will move up to sixth in the ACC rankings and will, on the whole, be spending about $100,000 per athlete.

Great. All they really did was more heavily concentrate the pool of athletes. Where will this extra $32,000 per athlete be spent? Don’t be surprised if the teams that generate the bulk of the revenue command those extra funds. After all, $100,000 is an the average. I doubt that women’s tennis will receive the same financial attention as the school’s star point guard.

And remember: The department is still in debt and still has to replenish the auxiliary fund it borrowed from. And they haven’t really optimized the student-athlete experience by many people’s standards. They completely rid 234 students of an experience at all.



BUT WHY CROSS COUNTRY AND TRACK?



Allow me to present a theoretical situation:

The track team is a revenue-generating sport. In fact, it doesn’t come at any financial loss to the university. Yet, the athletic department goes through the same budget crisis.

Men’s track and field still gets cut.

Wait. They do their part to be self-sustaining. Why are they being cut?

Because of Title IX and a manipulation of numbers.

For those of you not familiar with Title IX, it was part of the Education Amendments of 1972—a federal statute. In essence, it was a measure passed to curb injustices and discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions receiving federal funds. It has had a strong effect on collegiate athletics, allowing thousands upon thousands of women to compete for their schools. It was a progressive measure and it was much-needed in the 1970s.

But, over time, it has come at a cost.

A school can prove its compliance with Title IX in one of three ways—the most popular being establishing “proportionality.” The proportionality rule states that an institution’s make up of athletes must be directly proportional to that of the entire student body. In essence, if a school is 55% men and 45% women, then 55% of the athletes must be male and 45% must be female.

In an era where males are usually the minority in college populations, it is difficult to remain in compliance with Title IX, especially when sports like football take up as many as 120 roster sports. So, accordingly, men’s programs are cut.

The law is somewhat unyielding and a bit of a dinosaur in my opinion, but I’m not going to make it the culprit in this theoretical scenario.

I hate to say it, but UMD has messed up once again. This time, track and field suffers for another reason. Remember when I mentioned a “manipulation of numbers” a few paragraphs ago. Well here it is…

Cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track is wrapped in a tight little package in the eyes of the school. It’s simply called “Men’s Track.” That’s not too terrible, other than the fact that it makes the program look like a grander expenditure to the University because it compiles three different sports’ expenses into one figure.

But for the school’s Title IX purposes, that “tight little package” ceases to exist. They have tallied 69 athletes for men’s track when only 28 exist on the roster. Here is how the athletic department does their math: 13 for XC + 28 for indoor + 28 for outdoor = 69 athletes, right?

Unless the track team is part of a unique and successful human cloning experiment, then that it is completely wrong. The roster is made up of 28 athletes that compete in three, individual seasons. There is no Sumanth Kuppalli 1, 2, and 3. He just happens to run all three seasons—believe it or not—as the same man.

The problem is, though, that UMD sees track as a viable cutting option because they can eliminate 69 male athletes on a campus where there are more women than men in the student body. Hence, they remain compliant with Title IX. Another injustice for the track team.

So even if they did generate a respectable revenue, they would still be under fire.


WHAT CAN WE DO?

The University of Maryland men’s track and field team has produced a host of graduates that found great success in life after college.  Many track alums are donors who have repeatedly given back to the school. Without a doubt, track and field’s legacy at the University is a superb one.

Also, the team is consistently a contender in the President’s Cup—an awards ceremony that celebrates the sport with the highest cumulative team GPA. In fact, the cross country team has garnered several titles. Bottom line: This is a team that works diligently, both on and off the 400-meter oval.

But…

This is also a team that needs a lot of help. We’re all runners. We don’t want to see the state’s flagship school lose its men’s programs. So many former Maryland high school athletes’ futures are at stake here.

Join the group “Save UMD Track and Field” on Facebook. Sign their online petition.  E-mail Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and President Wallace Loh. Be sure to write respectfully but to get the point across:

If the men’s cross country and track teams are cut at the University of Maryland, there is more to be lost than gained.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 November 2011 20:55 )
 
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  1. Good article, Greg. One important thing to note about Title IX: you don't HAVE to be compliant. There are other schools in the ACC who don't even bother. It's only a problem if someone makes an issue out of it. Seems to me that perhaps in this case everyone would agree that it's disproportionately impacting men in a negative way, and maybe nobody should give the school a hard time about it.