Couch Slouch

At University of Maryland, competitive eating is another team sport that's hard to swallow

By Norman Chad
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 11:57 PM

Over the holiday weekend, as America again gorged on its excesses as no nation ever has - actually, Caligula used to throw a New Year's Day spread that could feed all of the Roman Empire, plus two pirate ships off the Iberian Coast - I discovered that my misguided alma mater, the University of Maryland, again had set a new standard of non-academic excellence.

Maryland has the nation's first collegiate competitive eating team.

But back to that in a moment. Let's first trace Maryland's low road to lower dining.

Maryland, like countless other large state universities, has chased athletic glory evermore. For many in the College Park community, it's a priority that has paid off: In the last decade, Maryland has won national championships in men's basketball, men's soccer, women's basketball, women's lacrosse and women's field hockey.

Since my own days at Maryland - I am Class of '81, just before the iconic Norman Esiason years - I have decried this sports sensibility. And while I am told the school's educational experience has vastly improved since then, I have no doubt that the athletic tail still wags the academic dog.

Back then, I argued for intramurals instead of intercollegiate athletics; this was akin to defending communism over capitalism.

I proposed then - as I still do - disbanding the football program.

I proposed then - as I still do - disbanding the men's basketball program.

Alas, I have not been asked back to campus in any official, or unofficial, capacity since graduating 29 years ago.

(Can't someone just please invite me to the Student Union for a cup of coffee? Because, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I want to get one more parking ticket on campus.)

(What disappoints me most about College Park is this: Every time I've written about the ills of Division I athletics - and pointed to my alma mater as an example - I get dozens of e-mails, pro and con, but I've never heard from a single Maryland administrator, educator or student saying, "You go, Terp!" They all just sit on their hands and hope Gary Williams doesn't get outcoached again.)

As Maryland's athletic success has grown, so has its senseless strain of boorish behavior. The university has become a depository for cultural stupidity. One regrettable longtime tradition - the "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" chant when an opposing player fouls out or the visiting team is about to lose - has been joined more recently by the tactless, vulgar "Hey, You Suck!" cheer just before men's basketball games.

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