Big Ten expansion | Bitterness subsides; Maryland Terps open to challenge

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
High Contrast Normal Version

Vitriol erupted among Maryland fans when the university announced in November 2012 that it was leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference after nearly six decades to join the Big Ten.

Hundreds of angry emails reportedly flooded the office of Maryland President Wallace Loh.

Former U.S. congressman Tom McMillen, a Terrapins basketball star in the 1970s, wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which he railed against the secret negotiations that produced the conference switch.

Facebook pages “Maryland to Big Ten — I Hate It” and “Boycott Terps Football” served as venues for venom.

“Everybody was shocked. I know I was,” said Johnny Holliday, who’s entering his 36th year of broadcasting Maryland football and men’s basketball games. “I think the Maryland fans couldn’t believe it was going to happen.

“They were saying, ‘How could this take place? How could we leave the ACC and our tremendous rivalries with Duke, (North) Carolina and Virginia?’ I was among those. It was overwhelming with people with negative feelings about it.”

Initial indignation also hit Gary Williams, who played basketball at Maryland in the 1960s and coached the Terrapins from 1989 to 2011, leading them to their lone national championship in 2002.

Williams, however, knew the Big Ten offered top-notch competition and passionate fan bases from coaching Ohio State for three seasons from 1986 to ’89.

“It’s not like we’re going from the ACC to a bad conference. We’re going to a great conference,” said Williams, who had a 461-252 record in 22 seasons at Maryland.

Williams also understood that Maryland’s move, which became official on July 1, made sense because increased revenue from the Big Ten could aid the debt problem facing his alma mater’s financially strapped athletic department.

“When people stepped back and took a look at it, it was a positive move,” Williams said. “We all have great memories, but at the same time, what’s best for the University of Maryland for the future? You can’t hold back for past memories.”

Williams and Holliday are now excited about this first year in the Big Ten, and they sense general acceptance among Maryland fans, who traditionally focused on the east — the school is less than 40 miles from Washington and Baltimore.

“There’s big anticipation,” Williams said. “What’s your alternative: sit around and complain the rest of your life? Or, let’s see how we can make this a really positive thing for Maryland. It’s a lot easier to complain than it is to embrace the future, the unknown.”

Both Williams and Holliday mentioned how Maryland’s Byrd Stadium should crackle with energy on Oct. 4 when Ohio State travels to College Park to play the Terrapins in football.

“There won’t be a ticket available, and that hasn’t happened in a long time at a football game at Maryland,” Holliday said. “I’d much rather see 55,000 people there than 17- or 18,000 against a lower-level ACC team.”

Maryland, which has 19 varsity sports, historically has enjoyed more success and support in athletics than Rutgers, the other school entering its first season in the now 14-member Big Ten. The Terrapins have long been known for basketball prowess.

Williams and Lefty Driesell (coach from 1969 to ’86) consistently challenged the upper tier of the basketball-centric ACC, providing the program a national name led by star players such as Len Bias, John Lucas, Len Elmore and Joe Smith.

Football at Maryland occasionally has had grand moments, too, highlighted by a 1953 national title — the school’s first year as an ACC charter member — and a 2002 Orange Bowl bid in the first of three consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins.

Maryland is a power in women’s basketball under coach Brenda Frese. She led the Terrapins to the 2006 national championship and the Final Four last season. The past nine seasons also have included three Elite Eight appearances, two Sweet 16s and a 256-60 record.

The men’s soccer team won national titles in 2005 and ’08 and lost in the NCAA final in 2013. The Terrapins made the 2012-13 Final Four in field hockey, and this spring, the baseball team advanced to an NCAA super regional.

“People in the Big Ten are going to be surprised at how good some of these Maryland programs are,” Holliday said.

Most of the focus, however, will be on football and men’s basketball, where Maryland’s success has dropped off in the past decade as financial debt piled up.

The Terrapins men’s basketball team went 17-15 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight year. They haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2003, and their average home attendance has dropped 32 percent since the 2007-08 season.

Randy Edsall is 13-24 in three seasons as football coach, including 7-6 a year ago when Maryland’s average home crowd of 41,278 wouldn’t fill half of Ohio Stadium. The Terrapins now face a schedule stretch of OSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.

“If we win some of these games, it’ll really open the eyes of some of the fans here,” Holliday said.

Victories would help dampen lingering vitriol from 21 months ago when the conference switch was announced. Some at Maryland already are embracing possibilities.

“It’s not like we have to guard the past to make us good in the future,” Williams said.

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones

 

University of Maryland
  

Location: College Park

Founded: 1856

Enrollment: 37,227

Mascot: Terrapins

2013 football: 7-6, 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference; lost to Marshall in the Military Bowl

2013-14 men’s basketball: 17-15, 9-9 in the ACC; failed to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament

Men’s sports: Baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, track, wrestling

Women’s sports: Basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track, volleyball

Comments

Please Share Your Zip Code

To listen to 97.1 The Fan or ESPN 1460AM we ask that you provide a zip code so that we may give you the best audio connection possible.

Please enter your zip code:

No thanks