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When Andy Geiger agreed to become the University of Maryland's athletic director 21 months ago, he was pushing the envelope of his own optimism.

Here was a self-supporting department facing a $5 million deficit. Its facilities were outmoded and deteriorating. Its two revenue-producing sports, football and basketball, were losing and the basketball program was still serving a harsh NCAA probationary sentence. Its fund-raising efforts had slipped behind those of the other eight members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.But Geiger, at age 50, figured he still had time to tackle the most imposing challenge in what had been a 20-year career as an athletic director.

Geiger was intrigued enough to move back across the country from Stanford, where he had spent the previous 12 years carving a comfortable niche for himself. Ensconced on the picturesque, Spanish-style campus of one of the nation's most prestigious academic institutions, he had managed an athletic department with an annual budget of $22 million and trophies from 27 NCAA championships won during the previous decade.

``I tried to approach it like a golf match,' Geiger said recently. ``Just as the most important shot is always the next one, the most important decision is the next one.

``For me, the only way to do it was to concentrate on where the program stood the day I walked in the door. It wouldn't do me any good to wallow in the history of the problems.'

Geiger's initial objective, as he and chancellor William Kirwan analyzed it, was to bridge the gulf that had developed over the years between athletics and the rest of the university.

``Athletics should be fun,' Geiger said. ``They should be a vibrant, constructive aspect of a college. But the athletic department here was isolated from the university and subject to separate policies, regulations and oversight. There was paranoia, mistrust, a bunker mentality.

``We needed to open our doors and our books to the university community at large and cease being the 'castle on the hill' or the tail wagging the dog.

``Our efforts in that area have been well-received.'

Geiger believes he has made progress in relieving some of the thornier problems that confronted Maryland athletics. But final solutions will require more time in terms of years. A rundown follows.

Finances: Thus far, Geiger has had to content himself with holding the line on a deficit that remains at $4.75 million and still requires an annual expenditure of $250,000 on debt service.

Geiger cited the need to pay the outgoing football coaching staff along with the incoming one as a factor that cost the program a 1991-92 profit.

State budget difficulties also have posed a problem for Geiger in the form of a 17 percent tuition increase that will affect scholarship costs.

And now that the basketball program has finally been relieved of NCAA sanctions, Geiger has reason to expect his department to show a profit over the '92-93 operating budget of $14 million.

Facilities: Among Geiger's highest priorities is the Maryland Partnership Plan, a $68.4 million capital improvement project that is to combine private and matching state funds to modernize the university's athletic facilities in the '90s.

Work already has been completed on a new $10 million press and guest box for Byrd Stadium and is underway on a $6.1 million football fieldhouse. Another $8 million has been earmarked for stadium renovation.

Also on the planning board are $6.7 million worth of renovations for Cole Field House, $10.7 million for a new outdoor track and $19.4 million for an indoor practice facility.

The state's budget problems, however, have shoved the timetable for appropriations deeper into the current decade.

Basketball: During coach Gary Williams' three seasons, his teams have managed to hang around the .500 mark and generate increasing fan enthusiasm.

Though the worst is over for Williams now that Maryland has been released from the NCAA yoke, he probably will need another year or two to develop an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

Football: A lacklustre 2-9 showing in Coach Joe Krivak's fifth season last fall convinced Geiger that the program needed new direction. He replaced Krivak with Mark Duffner, a 38-year-old former lineman who posted a glossy 60-5-1 record in the past six years as head coach at Division I-AA entry Holy Cross.

Earnest and gung-ho, Duffner has excelled as a motivator. He anticipates a rebuilding project at Maryland, but his adherence to the run-and-shoot offense should appeal to spectators.

Non-Revenue Sports: Battling its budget deficit, Maryland divided its 21 varsity sports into four tiers of scholarship support.

The top tier consisted of sports in which the university would maintain full support in order to be nationally competitive: football, men's and women's basketball, men's lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey.

The second tier would continue to receive 75 percent of their previous scholarship support: men's and women's soccer, women's lacrosse and wrestling.

The third tier would be cut to 50 percent of its previous scholarship money: baseball, men's and women's swimming, men's and women's track and cross country.

The lowest tier would operate with no scholarship support: men's and women's tennis, golf and gymnastics.

Geiger plans to replace that setup with a two-tier system. Scholarships would be fully funded for one subgroup in the higher tier. The second tier would be restricted to scholarship funds designated specifically for their use.

Fund-Raising: Geiger created the position of associate athletic director for advancement, hired Jeff Gray to fill it and consolidated all athletic fund-raising efforts under his supervision.

Gray's ambitious five-year plan calls for Maryland to raise $22-26 million, including $12-13 million for capital improvements, $8-10 million in annual gifts and $2-3 million for endowed scholarships.

Geiger is quite aware that his optimism - and his patience - will be tested before Maryland's once-proud athletic program fully recovers from its own Great Depression.

``We're making progress here and there, but we have a long, long way to go,' he said.

``It's a big job.'

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