How could he have seen this coming?
History wasn't supposed to repeat itself. Not like this. He'd done the research, double-checked the math, talked to the right people. There was no way, Anderson Sloan thought to himself in November, that this was happening again.
What he found in College Park was everything, he thought, the Tigers did not have —security, a future, a chance at glory. Then came the worst kind of déjà vu. Barring a minor miracle that nets them millions of dollars and staves off elimination amid an athletics-department-wide bloodletting, the Terps will not exist after this season. This weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference Championships might be their last.
This was bad, Sloan's teammates knew. And yet, it could've been worse for each of them. Far worse.
"They were like, 'This really sucks for us,'" Sloan said, "but it really sucks for you."
THE FIRST BLOW
Had performance prevailed over finance, Sloan wouldn't have been here on the pool deck of the Eppley Recreation Center Natatorium, trying to explain the inexplicable.
Clemson had been a good and proud program, regularly sending swimmers and relay teams to the NCAA Championships and holding its own in the competitive ACC. It might not have won championships or attracted blue-chippers, but it did enough to lure Sloan from his Charlotte, N.C., home.
There was one problem: By the time he'd arrived for his fall semester in 2010, he realized he might be on the move again. Months before, Clemson athletic directorTerry Don Phillips had announced the Tigers' program would be cut after the 2011-12 season. The team's middling performance, Phillips said, didn't warrant further investment.
"They said we weren't competitive enough as a swim program," Sloan said. "We wouldn't have the money to fund another (50-meter) pool. So from there, we're all trying to think, 'Well, we're pretty competitive. For competing in NCAA swimming, you don't even need a 50-meter pool.'"
It didn't matter. The program— at that point, more than 90 years old on the men's side — was given two more years to live. Its swimmers were given a chance to stay or leave. Sloan was one of the few freshmen who packed his bags.
In search of a new program that could offer stability and opportunity, he decided on Maryland. And why not? The men's team had recently become fully funded. The swimmers themselves, Sloan found, were likeable and like-minded. And the facility— oh, that pool, Anderson and his parents thought. If there was one pristine, Olympic-size swimming pool that was too big, too nice, too perfect to fail, this was it.
"My second time around, I was really thinking, 'Thisisn't a trend, this was a fluke, I don't think that some other program in the ACC is going to go under,'"Sloan said. "But it was one of their big selling points — we have this big facility."
"One of the first questions asked when we were going through the recruiting process was, 'Was the school committed to the program?'"said Williams Sloan, Anderson's father. "We felt that it was legitimate and I honestly think the coach felt it was legitimate."
Asked recently if there was any sign not all was well in Maryland swimming and diving, coach Sean Schimmel was terse.
"Zero," Schimmel said. "Zero."
What the Sloans and many others didn't know was that those same resources which had convinced Anderson to renew his career with the Terps may also prove responsible for their extinction. Since its construction in 1998, the team's sparkling natatorium had become a financial albatross, a state-of-the-art luxury with an annual price tag of approximately $300,000 for an athletics department starved of funds.
"We're blessed for what we have, but obviously it's our greatest downfall the way we have to pay for it," senior co-captain Ginny Glover said.
As the economy worsened and the athletics department's reserves were drained to the bone, the rumors started. If a team were to go, Sloan had heard before he ever swam for the Terps, swimming and diving was ripe for the picking.
"We just kind of blew it off," Sloan said.
That was, until he saw the suits. In November, Sloan got an urgent email ordering the entire team to the pool before afternoon practice for a mandatory meeting. He saw the grim looks around him and recognized a couple of faces from the athletics department.
Then he noticed Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson up front, dressed in his Sunday best.
"I kind of knew that, if we were to hear terrible news," Sloan said, "that was how it would be issued."
Somehow, the sport's grim reaper had followed him more than 500 miles up the Atlantic coast to Maryland.
"He just couldn't catch a break there," said Walker Layne, a Clemson swimmer and close friend of Sloan. "The main reason he went there was because he wanted to keep swimming. That was his big thing."
A math whiz, Sloan retreated to some number-crunching. His calculations, equal parts torture and insight, read like a middle-school word problem: If there are 200-plus schools in Division I, what are the chances someone chooses a school, sees its swimming team cut, then chooses another and has the exact same thing happen?
The answer, Sloan said, is very, very small.
In a sport so reliant on numbers to sort out the good from the rest, these different kinds of figures have come to dominate Sloan's life of late. He frets over the dwindling number of what might be his final varsity practices the way he agonizes over his splits in the 100 breast.
Sloan, of course , also keeps tabs on what the program needs for his two-year career to have a shot at a junior season. After parents, alumni and legislators lobbied officials to ease the swimming and diving teams' fundraising deadlines, Anderson is now requiring the program to raise $1.4 million by April 1 and $11.57 million overall by December 2013.
Sloan, for the moment, has no plans to transfer. As he eyed a group of women's swimmers exercising across from him in the natatorium earlier this month, he spoke of his hopes for admission into the university's selective Robert H. Smith School of Business, joked about his desire not to tempt fate a third time, described his reasons for leaving Clemson for Maryland.
"I wanted a leadership position in the future [on the swim team]," Sloan explained.
Then he paused, the realization of those words hitting him like a tidal wave.
"Now, I guess we're just hoping that it stays alive."