Maryland athletics needs an image makeover

Mike Wise
Columnist February 23, 2012

It’s been another bang-up week of bad pub in College Park.

Maryland football coach Randy Edsall, a $2 million-a-year hall monitor, finally let his transferring players go where they wanted — albeit after he was pilloried nationally for holding quarterback Danny O’Brien and other players hostage from choosing the school they wanted.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Kevin Anderson, the athletic director who hired Edsall, made his own headlines by drawing a line in the sand with Georgetown: Until the Terps and Hoyas schedule a men’s basketball game for the first time since 1993, Anderson, with unanimous support from the sports programs Maryland has yet to cut for budgetary reasons, decreed no other team would schedule Georgetown.

This infuriated and angered everyone on the Hilltop, where two immediate reactions were audible:

“Hahahahahahahaha. He’s joking, right?”

And: “Wait. Hold up. Who’s Kevin Anderson?”

Rather than pile on the two most maligned men in Maryland athletics for their apparent inabilities to understand even the most rudimentary elements of their working environments, I placed a call to Anderson to try to understand the logic behind the seemingly nonsensical.

Knowing the simmering animosities that have prevented this seemingly natural rivalry from being scheduled the past 18 years, why would Anderson think public threats were the way to make it work? That makes about as much sense as trying to block the desires of 20-year-old players who don’t want to play for you.

“All I would like to do is to sit down and have a conversation and be told why this is a bad idea for anyone,” Anderson said by telephone Wednesday. “If I can be given reasons why this isn’t a good idea, I’m open to listening. But when you can’t even sit down with anyone to have that discussion, it hurts everyone.”

Former Georgetown Coach John Thompson Jr., assuring he was not speaking on behalf of the school he still is compensated by — and where his son now coaches — responded to Anderson’s Hoya Annoya boycott: “I’m not gonna permit myself to be threatened; I can tell you that right now,” he said.

Great. Beautiful. Next to these Brahma bulls, putting Pacquiao-Mayweather together could be a piece of cake.

“I have no beef with Coach Thompson,” Anderson says. “I have the utmost respect for him. I know some people in this profession who would not have their jobs were it not for all the things he did years ago to open doors. I just want get this settled one way or the other before we move on. I’m open to changing my position if we start to have a dialogue on this.”

He said he knew a little of the animosity that led up to both schools snubbing each other, including Lefty Driesell and Big John’s dust-ups.

But here’s where it really went sour: In 1993, just as Gary Williams’s Maryland program was emerging from the probation-scarred aftermath of Len Bias’s death, the teams agreed to play at USAir Arena. It was arranged by future Virginia state senator Russ Potts, then an enterprising promoter who had already put on the Ralph Sampson vs. Patrick Ewing Game of the Century in 1982.

Maryland agreed to play on Georgetown’s home court only if there were no markings anywhere advertising Georgetown, and the Terps got to wear their home jerseys. An even split on tickets was arranged, which many Maryland fans bought up.

The game’s defining moment came when Joe Smith got the ball on the perimeter against Othello Harrington of the favored, 15th-ranked Hoyas. With one explosive dribble, the under-recruited Smith drove past the highly coveted Harrington. He rose and dunked maliciously in an upset that ended with Maryland’s Duane Simpkins winning the game on an overtime layup with three seconds left, then dancing on the scorer’s table as if the Terps had won an NCAA regional.

“I remember John’s face when Joe Smith took off and dunked like that,” Williams said last month when I asked him about the game. “He had the look of, ‘What do we got here?’ From that moment, I felt our program had arrived.”

A game at Cole Field House was tentatively scheduled for the next year, but Georgetown was denied a split of the tickets. When the school couldn’t be guaranteed an allotment of even 3,000, Thompson — feeling the Hoyas had treated the 1993 game as a contest on a neutral court — essentially told Maryland to beat it.

Gary’s take for years: Georgetown still owes us a game at our place.

While the two men have mended fences — for example, after Maryland won the 2002 NCAA championship, the first radio show Williams appeared on was Thompson’s — the business of putting the game back together has never been settled.

After Anderson’s latest proclamation, who knows if it ever will?

Anderson has to know he is not controlling the price of crude oil in this saga, and that sanctions work only if your side can do without longer than the other side can.

The same goes for Edsall, who often appears a few fries short of a Happy Meal. He should know how bad it looks when he keeps his former quarterback from going to Vanderbilt to reunite with the former Terps coordinator who recruited him, even if James Franklin and O’Brien were communicating during the season, about which Maryland has complained to the ACC.

Either way, the lack of basic awareness sometimes displayed at Maryland makes College Park feel like a galaxy away from downtown Washington, rather than a short drive up Rhode Island Avenue.

Between Ralph Friedgen’s awkward firing, frenzied coaching searches, taking over a financial mess and all things Edsall, it hasn’t been a boffo publicity blitz for Anderson.

“I have to take responsibility for some of things that happened with Randy,” Anderson said. “With everything that happened with Ralph and how it was handled, he inherited a lot of that and he had nothing to do with it.

“From a P.R. standpoint, there have been some personal attacks. But some things — like our finances and the record we had — are unavoidable when talking about Maryland.”

What about convincing every coach to honor a boycott that seems to hinder rather than kick-start a long-dormant rivalry?

“If four of your brothers are allowed to sit at the table and eat and one isn’t, are you really a family?”

Given that no one from Georgetown has yet called to schedule Maryland in men’s basketball, maybe a more pertinent question should be asked:

Can the athletic department that starves together stay together?

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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