Public invited to speak on Big Ten move at first open forum
Before joining the Big Ten in 2014, a move announced in November (above), the university must develop a long-term financial model to reduce the athletic department’s deficit, officials said.
Students, alumni and coaches had their first opportunity yesterday to share comments and questions publicly about this university’s move to the Big Ten, as four working groups reported their progress navigating the transition to the athletic conference.
The possibility of reinstating some of the seven teams cut from the athletic department’s budget in 2012 drew the biggest audience support at yesterday’s open forum, with several students and alumni advocating to bring back the swimming and diving programs.
Students hope to see that and other issues addressed by the end of June, when university President Wallace Loh will receive the final recommendations from a 22-member committee that has been working to determine how the university should integrate itself into the Big Ten.
Following Loh’s November announcement that the university would leave the Atlantic Coast Conference in July 2014 after nearly 60 years of membership, he formed a commission with four working groups to examine four different areas impacted by the move: university athletics; academics; communication, fundraising and marketing; and business and finance.
A decision to reinstate teams has yet to be made, but members from each of the working groups — which have been meeting monthly since January — said they have been researching factors, such as academic performance of athletes, in their ultimate decision.
“Based on past performance, restoration of any of the teams that were eliminated in  is likely to increase the average grade point average of Maryland student-athletes,” Provost Mary Ann Rankin said, adding restoration of some teams would also likely increase the graduation rates for athletes.
As a business major, former men’s swimming and diving team member Anderson Sloan said he understood the financial implications behind the university’s decision. But it was still difficult to accept the news, he said, because he and his teammates spent so much time training and still maintained high grade point averages.
“Personally, it will be hard to graduate a proud Terp knowing I was not given the college experience I was originally promised,” said Sloan, a junior who transferred from Clemson after it cut its swimming program in April 2012. He added he hopes the university will continue to raise funds to ensure the athletic department never has to cut another sports team.
The university’s swimming facilities, said another attendee, could make a strong contribution to the Big Ten, which he said is known for its strong swimming teams.
“One of the saddest days was when we had to give up those athletic programs,” said Michael Egan, a 1967 alumnus and member of the Terrapin Club. “I’ve been around the university and have watched the minor sports teams. Those kids work just as hard.”
Reinstating athletic teams wouldn’t come soon enough for many enrolled student-athletes, but some forum attendees said they hope to see programs for future students.
“It will not impact me personally, but I know I would like to have the opportunity to come back in the future and for the legacy of women’s water polo here to continue,” said former water polo team member Allison Campbell.
Commission members also announced goals to develop a long-term financial model to reduce the athletic department’s budget deficit and to enhance the overall well-being of student-athletes.
Additionally, the committee emphasized the academic benefits of joining the Big Ten. With the conference move, the university will join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation — an academic consortium of Big Ten institutions and the University of Chicago — which committee members said would expand innovation, education and research opportunities for students.
“I’m excited about the opportunities about going into the Big Ten,” said Brad Hatfield, chairman of the kinesiology department, who recently attended a Big Ten kinesiology conference. “There are some really innovative partnerships going on between athletics, kinesiology, sports science. Maryland can use its resources on the campus to contribute and help student-athletes and reach out to the general student body as well.”
The Big Ten institutions, Hatfield said, are more homogeneous than the schools within the ACC.
“Going into the Big Ten is like a new chapter that brings together athletics and academics for the good not only of the student-athletes but for the general student body as well,” Hatfield said. “It’s exciting to see how the dots would be connected.”
Several students also expressed concern about allotting financial aid to non-athletes. The committee could not release specific numbers due to a confidentiality agreement Loh and the commission members signed regarding the contract with the Big Ten, said Barry Gossett, a university alumnus and co-chairman of the commission.
The committee will “use the money effectively and efficiently to take care of the student-athletes and make sure the athletic department is financially sound,” Gossett said, in addition to ensuring a plan will be made to ensure academic support outside athletics.
Gossett added the university is behind the other Big Ten institutions in offering students financial aid, according to financial aid director Sarah Bauder.
“Clearly, we do need to address this,” Gossett said.
Though some alumni expressed disdain about the university’s decision to move to the Big Ten, most students who spoke at the forum said they were enthusiastic about the new conference’s opportunities.
“This benefits students very strongly in the academic realm, which is what students pay their $20,000 or $40,000 tuition for,” said JT Stanley, a freshman government and politics and psychology major. “It will further empower them to carry on with their academics as well as enable them to further pursue their career or profession once they get outside the University of Maryland.”