ANNAPOLIS – Could the new Cole Field House be the Pepsi Cola Field House?
That is the fear of speakers who turned out Wednesday to support a bill that would prevent state universities and colleges from selling corporations the right to name campus athletic facilities or slap their logos on them.
“I do not want to graduate from `Toyota Sports Center,'” said Meredith Walker, a University of Maryland College Park student who testified before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
But the proposal faces some powerful opponents, including university leaders who are trying to raise $106 million to replace Cole and Senate President Mike Miller, who defied Annapolis protocol by testifying against the bill.
“I’d like to think that this facility could be funded on its own merits,” said Miller, D-Prince George’s, a College Park alumnus and rabid Terrapins fan. “But the only way this can become a reality is to go to the private sector.”
Miller said the 50-year-old Cole, the oldest field house in the Atlantic Coast Conference, handicap-accessible and does not meet Title IX standards, among other shortcomings.
University officials have asked the state for up to $60 million to replace Cole, but expect they will need to raise as much as $25 million from the private sector. That’s where corporate naming rights could come in to play.
Georgia Tech got $5.5 million from McDonald’s for the right to put the fast-food chain’s name and logo on a new arena there and Ohio State University’s new arena is named for corporate donor Value City, a discount department store chain.
That’s just what Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and sponsor of the naming-rights bill, said he wants to prevent.
“While this type of commercialism and advertising might be common in the marketplace of commerce, it shouldn’t be so acceptable in the marketplace of the ideas, our public institutions of higher education,” Pinsky said.
Pinsky noted that the University of Missouri recently returned a $10 million gift because the donors wanted the facility named after them.
“The University of Maryland should not sell its soul for the price of its name,”said American University law professor Jamin Raskin, who asked where the selling of names stops.
But University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald Langenberg said the Board of Regents has a 152-year record of appropriately naming public university buildings and that it would “probably” never name the new Cole after a corporation.
If a Maryland facility is to be named after a donor, said Langenberg, the gift must be large enough to cover “substantial costs of construction.” He could not recall the exact policy, but said he thought the threshold was about 20 percent of the total construction cost.
He noted that Van Munching Hall on the College Park campus is named for the owner of a beer distributorship — better known for its product, Heineken beer — who contributed to the project.
A representative of College Park President William E. Kirwan — who is leaving the university this year for Ohio State and its Value City Arena — also spoke against Pinsky’s bill.
“This bill is unnecessary, unfair and unreasonable,” said Charles Wellford, a criminal justice professor at College Park.
But for Mike Wass, a student at College Park, the issue is simple. He doesn’t want to be a “McTerp.”