Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Kicks: Maryland Students Throw Sharp Objects at Me (Edition)

I need to brace myself for the backlash that will come from the first item on Free Kicks this week, so go ahead and line up for the kick...

Free Student Tickets Exacerbating UMD Athletic Budget Shortfall
So the University of Maryland is struggling to fill the coffers of the athletic department, and I can see why. Historically the Terps have emphasized the non-revenue generating sports (lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer to name a few) in addition to the revenue generating sports that generally support the remainder of the department. This commitment is built on the principle that all Maryland sports should be great, regardless of TV deals or other income, and I admire that commitment (I wish more universities felt that way). However, with basketball and football underachieving as of late, the athletic department has been forced to cut costs in any way possible, most recently raising the spectre of cutting certain sports altogether. At the risk of being torn apart by my Maryland grad compatriots, I have a simple solution that is either too blasphemous to mention or just hasn’t been thought of.

When I visited Maryland, I was always astonished at how Windsor and Falco would get their student tickets- loyalty points, applying online, and getting their passes. That is, for free. So many sports are free at Maryland to students, and I always thought that was odd. Would MD-Duke not get enough fans if they had to shell out $10 for the ticket? At my alma mater, the University of Michigan (as most of you readers either know or have guessed by now), where football is king and basketball takes a backseat, basketball season ticket packages cost $115 for students. For football you are talking $250 or more, depending on the season. In Maryland’s case you might have to flip which one costs more, as basketball runs the show in College Park. Additionally, in order to keep the stands full these prices might have to be lowered significantly (or even cut in half), but something is better than nothing. Getting even 10,000 students to buy any of these packages would solve many of the department’s budget problems, and might even eliminate the current shortfall.

The fact of the matter is that the free ticket policy has been a privilege Maryland students enjoy that most other major universities do not provide. Additionally, with the paltry funding from the state, the ceiling on tuition increases and catastrophic losses in the endowment, this is not a time for such luxuries. Tough times call for tough decisions. It is time to give this student comfort up before the University gives up any of the sports it has worked so hard to build up.

Wieters Going Wild
As the Orioles slink towards another sorry finish, throwing out bodies to rack up innings and sending their walking wounded to the showers early for the season, there is a very bright spot heating up at the end of this all-too-long ’09 campaign. After a sluggish start to the season, matt Wieters has raised his average from .265 to .290 over his last 10 games, and on Wednesday launched his 8th home run of the season (the third in his last 10 games). Having played just a little more than half a season, Wieters is coming on strong and turning into the player everyone in Baltimore has been waiting for him to be. Expectations were far too high on this kid, and perhaps as the Orioles have tanked and the Ravens have taken over the media spotlight, it got to the point where he could just be himself and relax at the plate. Orioles fans were awful impatient with Wieters at first, unfairly so, but we can be sure that the hype machine will be back in full swing when the O's catcher reports to training camp in 2010.

So is South Carolina good or Ole Miss bad?
I am not sure that’s a fair question to either team. South Carolina is far too dysfunctional on the offensive side of the ball for me to consider them a truly good team, and Ole Miss had done nothing this season or last season to merit being ranked in the top 5. That said, even I had started to come around on the Rebels, putting as they were averaged out to #5 on this blog and I had seen their beating up on inferior opponents as signs of major improvement. They may yet be a challenger in the SEC West, but I think they are all out of Kool Aid at this point. As for the Gamecocks, they are a talented team defensively, their 41 points given up to Georgia not withstanding- even great defenses get gashed occasionally. I still don’t think Spurrier has a quarterback in Garcia who is capable of carrying this team, and it will hurt him a lot this season- if South Carolina can’t score points, they will be losing a lot of games 13-7 or 14-10. These are probably both back-end top 25 teams or are just outside of the poll when all is said and done.

Prediction for the Weekend:
Okay, so perhaps I whiffed on the prediction last weekend (I am oh so devastated that the Steelers lost and gave the AFC North lead to Baltimore, it really is killing me inside), but I am 1-1 on this segment so far, with this weekend being a toughie. I can’t call a blowout like LSU- Mississippi State looks like, it has to be something that has a good chance of being wrong to really fit the criteria here. How about this: the Arizona Cardinals are going to find their rhythm at home and score with the Indianapolis Colts- they are one of the few teams that can also score in 34 seconds with no time outs. I say the Cards win this one, 35-31.


Falco said...

I prefer Maryland's system in many ways. First, the tickets are not "free," they just don't charge students to old-fashioned way. They do it through the Student Activities Fee.

But moreover, Maryland feels it is important that all sports get supported. I feel this is vandicated with the crowds at soccer and lacrosse going in the thousands, plus even our smaller sports getting over 500, which some schools could never get. We have some of the best fans in the country, for all of our sports. And I'm happy we have an AD that cares about all of our sports, not just the ones that make money. Making it "free" ensures a strong and active crowd for many games.

The economy is hitting everyone right now, and raising student prices isn't the answer.

Expatriate said...

Why not? Aside from Division II schools or 1-AA schools, most major universities charge for tickets. Every school has a Student Activities fee, but why should every student have to pay for games they have no interest in? The university could make far more money by allowing the sports like basketball and football to raise more money to help support the other sports.

Additionally, I COMPLETELY agree that all sports should be supported, which is why the school should do everything in its power before cutting sports- including actually charging for tickets.

The answer here is to get more revenue for everyone to use- more money is not inherently bad. The way to get more money is not by cheapening the fan experience by putting a brand name on everything in sight (though you can do it if you have to), it is by charging for tickets.

Expatriate said...

That is, charging a price for tickets people will pay for- not making someone pay $20 for a diving meet, but getting more out of the sports people will pay to go to. An extra $100 for a season of MD basketball tickets won't keep the student section from being full, and that money goes a long way for the other sports.

Falco said...

The Student Activities Fee is enough. When our teams take the field, the students are part of the team. Maryland does not want to charge them to have them support us. Part of this goes along with the culture of Maryland: 27 sports, 1 team. We are big believers in that.

That is a big recruiting tool we have for athletes and non-athletes, knowing they can attend any sporting event and support their teams without cost. The money is a very small short term gain with a large long term loss. Charging students will not bring enough money in and the cost of angering the students would be high.

Tony Herman said...

If Maryland decides to charge students for basketball/football tickets, they better do it ahead of time, because nobody's going to shell out a penny to see the football team the rest of the year.