Friday, December 16, 2011


The night before Maryland men's soccer team was slated to meet Louisville in the NCAA tournament, my eldest and I were having dinner at the Macaroni Grill in Silver Spring prior to catching the kid's movie of her choice. Not my favorite restaurant, but my daughter got to make the call and I simply could not cajole her into selecting Nando's.

Fifteen minutes or so after we had sat down and ordered, in walked Louisville's team followed by an impressively large group of boosters and family members. And as the very talented college soccer team enjoyed an evening meal, including three seniors expected to be taken in the first round of next year's MLS draft, I got to talk to my kid about the tournament game the next day in the context of a personal familiarity with the athletic contestants that I had never had as a kid.

That dinner made her enthusiastic about the game early Sunday evening. We sat on the grass hill/embankment and I, once again, counted my blessings. Shortly thereafter, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson strolled up the same hill with his lovely family and I momentarily considered bounding over to him and thanking him for working to create an environment where I could take my kids to games with pride. I demurred, having earlier interrupted a private moment of President Wallace Loh's to introduce ourselves, but have come to regret not stridently expressing support for the regime change that brought Randy Edsall to College Park.

These thoughts kept haunting me as we sat in a cavernously empty Comcast Center on Wednesday night watching Zeke's Florida International Union embarrass Maryland for long stretches of the game. For my daughters, this was their second college hoops contest of the week, having endured the Georgetown-Howard match at Verizon on Saturday. The contrast between the two games was stark. While Georgetown's fans were stunned by how long Howard stayed in the game, they remained supportive throughout and got behind the team at key stretches. Maryland's fans took the opposite tact, bitterly grousing throughout most of the game. At one point, I needed to calm down the infant by walking around and found that I didn't need to actually see the game to follow the action: every time Maryland missed any shot or committed a turnover, the crowd collectively groaned in exasperation; every time FIU scored, the crowd behaved as if it had been wounded.

There is no reason this should happen. Mark Turgeon's doing an admirable job with what he has and, in the absence of Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len (who both return over the next two games), Maryland is 6 and 3 with wins over a Big East team (Notre Dame) and a Pac-12 team (Colorado). Unless they trip up -- as they've come close to doing the last two games -- they're likely to go into the conference season with ten wins. And while the talent has been derided, there are some good players still on this roster; I really enjoyed Ashton Pankey's performance against FIU.

And, yet, Kevin Anderson continues to bear the brunt of criticism leveled at University of Maryland athletics. All kinds of voices (including alums who own small businesses, go to a few games, and, as such, are entitled to lecture the school about the constitution of the football program) have been popping off about what needs to be done to fix Maryland football and basketball and the grievous ways in which the "legacies" of Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams were tarnished. But we're through the football season and now comfortably into the basketball season. The one thing that's been pretty consistent is piss-poor fan support.

According to the largely useless Report of the President's Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (Nov. 11, 2011), overall fundraising revenue (composed of Terrapin Club contributions, major gifts, and endowment revenue) fell from $15.3 million in fiscal year 2008 to $11.1 million in fiscal year 2009 -- a 28% decline in a single year while, by the way, both Friedgen and Williams were coaching their respective programs. Fundraising revenues fell again in FY2010, to $10.1 million (again, while Friedgen and Williams were still coaching) and to $9.1 million in FY2011. The $6.2 million dollar decline in fundraising revenue from FY2008 to FY2011 constituted nearly 6 times the $1.2 million dollar operating loss Maryland Athletics experienced in FY2011 and more than the projected loss for any future year through FY2017. The amounts aren't split out, so it is unclear how big of an impact declines in endowment revenue had on the overall budget, but the USA Today's "College Athletics Finance Database" pegged endowment and investment income as contributing less than $500k to total revenue in FY2010.

Contributions (fundraising) are just as big of a component of the overall athletics budget as football revenue or basketball revenue at Maryland. Kristi Dosh analyzed figures reported to the U.S. Department of Education for FY2010 and observed that Maryland clears the second least amount of football revenues in the ACC -- $11.5 million (compared to $10.1 million in revenue from contributions the same year), just ahead of Wake Forest. Duke, the school immediately above Maryland in terms of football revenue in the ACC, generated $16.1 million in revenue from their terrible football program, 40% more than what Maryland earned. Debbie Yow's new school earned almost twice what Maryland earned in football and Virginia Tech earned almost three times the Terps' take. On the flip side, Maryland spent the least on its football program.

For basketball, Ms. Dosh reported revenue for the Terps of $10.7 million in FY2010, putting it in the upper end of the ACC compared to $26.7 million at Duke, $20.6 million at UNC, $10.4 million at NC State, $9.8 million at Virginia, $9.3 million at Virginia Tech, $9.1 million at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, $8.0 million at Boston College, $7.1 million at Clemson and Miami, and $5.8 million for Florida State.

While basketball revenue seems significantly higher for Maryland basketball, Ms. Dosh's reporting would seem to confirm that Maryland's financial contributions have been relatively meager compared to the athletics program at the University of Virginia which received $26.0 million in contributions for FY2010, while Florida State received contributions amounting to $23.2 million and Virginia Tech's received $16.1 million in contributions as reported in this article from Ms. Dosh.

So, likely because football revenue and contributions revenue put Maryland at the lower end of the ACC totem pole in FY2010, the school relied heavily on student fees -- purportedly the fourth most in the country -- generating $13.7 million from enrolled students. Thus, current (cash-strapped) students contributed more to the FY10 budget than alumni, which seems completely crazy.

Other than noting that luxury boxes at Byrd have been a financial drain rather than boon, the President's Commission Report doesn't spend nearly any time discussing the revenue woes that seem to afflict the program. And while the Report frequently discusses expenditures in context of other conference schools, it makes no such comparative effort with respect to revenue.

But maybe that just acknowledges the slim prospects of embarrassing this fanbase into action. For a game broadcast on ESPN, attendance -- both of the student and non-student supporter variety -- was horrific Wednesday night. Given what the financials indicate about compulsory support from the students, I'm not bothered that they don't show up. But for alums and general sports fans in the region, tickets could be had in the secondary market for less than $5, cash parking at a garage in easy distance from Comcast was $10. Still, the upper bowl was virtually empty. Our row in the lower bowl was completely empty. No one could be bothered.

The other side of the coin here is that A.D. Anderson has a unique opportunity to take a hard look at the culture of University of Maryland sports. He now has a chance, looking out across empty seats in both Byrd and Comcast, to think about how much of a role "F U!" chants and unvarnished front-running play in retarding support for the school's terrific athletic programs.

In the meantime, empty seats at Comcast mean more room to spread out the winter coats, baby toys, and diaper bag and put me at a greater distance from the caterwauling that seems to characterize most of contemporary Terp nation.

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