Terrapins appear set for Military Bowl

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010

All signs point to Maryland playing East Carolina in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29, according to bowl executives and five officials and sources throughout the ACC.

At this point, should Maryland (8-4, 5-3 ACC) wind up at a different bowl - the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, the Sun Bowl in El Paso or Music City Bowl in Nashville - it would qualify as, by far, Maryland's biggest upset of the season. Despite finishing in a three-way tie for the third-best conference record in the ACC with North Carolina State (8-4, 5-3) and Miami (7-5, 5-3), Maryland faces the anticipated prospect of free-falling to the eighth slot in the ACC's postseason pecking order.

By landing Maryland - an outcome Military Bowl executive director Steve Beck has been unabashedly praying for - it will be the ideal scenario for a bowl looking to maximize local appeal. It would also be the best scenario for Maryland from a financial standpoint, because the school stands to lose money on any other bowl trip.

But in the view of Coach Ralph Friedgen and his players, matching up against a .500 Conference USA team on a weekday afternoon 10 miles from campus looms as an anticlimactic letdown following a resurgent season.

What could hold up further developments is that the Champs Sports Bowl, which has the third choice among ACC teams, wants to make a public announcement at a dinner on Sunday night. Bowls beneath the Champs Sports Bowl in the selection process are unable to make firm decisions until the Champs Sports Bowl officials make clear their intent. But five sources who have direct knowledge of the bowl discussions indicated on Thursday and Friday that Maryland's chances of landing in Orlando now range from slim to none, regardless of whether Notre Dame, West Virginia or South Florida is the opponent.

If Maryland chose to pass on the Military Bowl, it likely would not be able to compete in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Jan. 9 because Maryland's players begin their winter academic session about a week before the game.

The announcement would underscore the worst-kept secret in the bowl selection process: potential ticket sales trump everything.

If Maryland is passed over by the Champs Sports Bowl, it will serve as a telling statement about the perception of the Terrapins' diminished football fan base, which filled its home stadium to 75 percent capacity only once this season. North Carolina State, the team that's in direct competition with Maryland for the ACC's Champs Sports Bowl berth, filled its stadium to at least 97 percent capacity in all six of its home games.

The Terrapins averaged 39,168 spectators for six home games this season, the smallest average since 2000.

This time of year, bowl officials repeatedly talk about the commitment to taking the most "deserving" team, about signature wins, about looking at head-to-head matchups, about compelling story lines.

Then reality hits, and the teams that can lure 30,000 of their own faithful to bowl destination for three- or four-day vacations - booking hotels well in advance and flooding the ticket offices - are duly rewarded with the most prestigious games in the warmest climates.

Maryland could have trouble meeting the 10,000 ticket-allotment requirement for the Military Bowl, if only because some fans are likely to purchase tickets from other outlets. As one college football official said, "If Maryland struggles to meet that for that bowl in their own back yard, they are going to find it hard to get in any bowl game for some time."

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