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Targeted teams at UMCP launch fundraising efforts

COLLEGE PARK — The eight athletic teams slated for elimination at the University of Maryland, College Park, have launched fundraising efforts to help save their teams from the chopping block.

“This is the hand we’ve been dealt, we can either give up and go home, or we can roll with it and do what we can,” said Kevin Reardon, a Maryland swim team alum and a spokesperson for Save Maryland Swimming and Diving.

President Wallace Loh, in announcing the cuts last month, said the teams could avoid elimination by raising enough money by June 30 to build a large enough endowment to survive for eight years.

To help raise money, the teams have set up Facebook pages and established nonprofit organizations to manage the effort. The athletic department created a fundraising page for each program up for cuts on its website.

The four men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will have to raise roughly $11.56 million to avoid elimination. In order to adhere to Title IX regulations that require equal access for male and female athletes, the men’s track and field team and the acrobatics and tumbling team will have to raise approximately $9.46 million combined. Men’s tennis and women’s water polo will have to raise $8 million combined to remain.

Save Maryland Swimming and Diving has raised nearly half a million dollars in less than a month, Reardon said. Reardon said that the team hopes to attract money from corporate sponsors, alumni and other small-scale donors.

“We can do it,” Reardon said. “If you ask any swimmer, we set high expectations for ourselves and do anything we can to achieve them.”

Save UMD Men’s Track and Field & XC, which is mostly compromised of the program’s alumni, is also optimistic about reaching its fundraising goal. The organization has begun targeting prominent alumni, wealthy business people and corporate sponsors.

Athletes said the short timeline the university afforded the teams to raise the money could hurt their efforts.  On the track team, several top athletes have looked into transferring to other schools.

“There’s been so many years of negligence,” Robert Duru, a Maryland men’s track and field alum and a representative of Save UMD Men’s Track and Field & XC. “It’s not like the eight sports planned for cuts were responsible for the huge hole the athletic department is in.”

Duru said he believes that ultimately the program will be better off if it can gain self-sufficiency.

“This is a tall order, but if we can get this done, we will be a power player in the sport,” he said.

Facing similar cuts at other schools, teams have had mixed success in raising enough money to survive.

“No Division I program is immune,” said Robert Richardson, a former member of the Arizona State University men’s swim team.

In 2008, the Arizona State athletic department announced the elimination of several of the school’s non-revenue sports programs, including men’s swimming.

As a board member for the Sun Devil Swimming Association, Richardson played an integral role in the initial fundraising push that saved the program — and in the subsequent three-year push to raise $7 million by the end of 2011.

Maryland men’s and women’s swimming and diving will have to raise $11.56 million in seven months. Arizona State Swimming had difficulty reaching its relatively smaller three-year target.

“The situation at Maryland is only unique in scale. It’s not unique in kind,” said Bob Groseth, executive director for the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.

The association has worked to help swimming programs across the country in the face of budget cuts, like the program at Clemson University. It was cut without any opportunity to save it. He said that the University of Maryland has been active in boosting fundraising efforts of the teams facing elimination.

The fundraising goals that the programs at Maryland must meet are higher than those that faced by the University of California-Berkeley’s baseball, women’s lacrosse, gymnastics and men’s rugby teams when they worked to save their teams last year.

The teams had to raise a total of $25 million to save all programs for at least seven more seasons. The baseball team alone had to raise $10 million.

The school announced the cuts in the fall 2010.  By spring of 2011, the teams avoided elimination and had raised more than $20 million.

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