The Maryland Swimming & Diving team is in line to be cut because of a $4 million budget shortfall, and this week we are looking at some creative solutions that will help save programs. These won’t all be easy decisions, and some of them might not work, but at the end of the day it becomes a cost-benefit analysis. Would trimming costs in these other areas allow Athletics Departments to serve the average student athlete better than cutting programs?
The first idea we’ll look at is very program-specific. Maryland has a brilliant aquatics center on campus – perhaps the best in the whole state of Maryland. But there is a cost to having such a beautiful facility – a cost that amounts to $288,000 per year in rental fees.
If you crunch the numbers on that, if they use the facility for 4 hours a day, 30 days a month, year-round, that comes out to precisely $200 per hour for the pool’s use. And because the Maryland Athletic Department is legislatively mandated to be “self-sustaining,” every penny of that money has to come out of the swim team’s budget.
I’m no expert in pool management, but that seems like a huge number.
This is mostly a political issue. People want their Athletic Departments to be successful, but politicians can’t afford to have that happen at the expense of the academic programs, so in some cases they put these “self-sustaining” clauses into affect. Those within the Maryland community have said that their school takes this idea of compartmentalization to an extreme, and that not only do the recreational sports department and athletics department separate their budgets, but that they don’t even work well together.
The result is this big shuffle of money. Yes, Maryland Swimming has a “nice facility,” but they don’t own that facility, and they have to pay huge sums to gain access to it at which point one almost wonders what the benefit is in the long-term. (Obviously, not much, because they’re going to have the nicest facility in the country without a team to house).
It’s reasonable that the Rec Sports Department has to cover the costs of operating such a pool, but there’s a question about whether or not they should be charging what seems to be full-price to another Maryland entity. If one were to look at the long-term (say a 10-15 year period), it would be cheaper for the Athletics Department to build a scaled-down training facility, maintain it themselves, save thousands of dollars per year, and only rent the large facility for important meets. In fact, if there’s such huge demand for the rec center facility that rental fees go for $200 per hour (without many of those hour even being fully-commanding of the 50 meter pool), there’s a chance that a second facility could even break even for the swim team if they were able to rent it out for other programs to use.
Basically, the economics of $200/hour in pool rental fees doesn’t make much sense. (The women’s water polo team, that is also on the block, is said to pay only $10,000 a year in rentals). It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to have a college swim team and have them not use the school’s beautiful facility either, though. There has to be better cooperation in situations like this to save the depratments.
Perhaps this is a situation where the University President, the connection between the two, needs to look at the balance sheets and step in with at least a partial solution, but at any rate it’s hard for swim teams to survive when the school’s left hand is charging its right hand a thumb and a pinky for facility rentals.