Bobby Ross often has been peppered with the question, in one form or another: "How long ya gonna be at Maryland?"

One year.

At least.

It's true. The report that evidently began with a Baltimore radio station has been confirmed: Ross has opted for a one-year deal instead of the 10-year contract he and Athletic Director Dick Dull agreed to "in principle" about seven months ago.

He is fresh from a brief vacation that included time at a resort. Ahead is the challenge of steering a team picked by many to be college football's best this season.

Imaginative, forthright, honest and, not incidentally, a winner, Ross is among the most coveted coaches in America. He seems eager to stay at Maryland, despite frustration with the university bureaucracy and admissions policies.

Dull is equally enthusiastic about Ross remaining.

"They get along fine," an athletic department source said.

That having been settled, why would anyone in such an uncertain profession decline such nearly unique security?

"The things that are important (to his staying at Maryland) are not personally related," Ross said. "They're related to me being given a fair and competitive chance against the teams we play."

Even though its stadium is far smaller and less lavish than those of many opponents, Maryland is improving. The practice field has been redone and Byrd Stadium is being resodded, for the first time in about a decade.

The initial estimate on permanent lights was low by about $200,000, so installation is expected to be postponed until winter. Temporary lighting will enable the West Virginia and Virginia games to be played at night.

Other stadium renovations, including restrooms, are beyond the planning stage.

Use of the on-campus armory for workouts during inclement weather was rumored to be a major issue with Ross.

"No problem," he said. "We had it in the spring, but didn't need it because there wasn't any rain. It's there for us (in the fall). I've been told that's not a problem."

Ross emphasized "no other team has contacted me and I'm not interested in any other team." He said the 10-year deal "was very attractive, based on certain things being done."

Beyond that, all he would say was: "Philosophically, we've got to be together . . . If I was told something, I would expect it to be (also) where I'm coming from."

Friends and colleagues of Ross say he has been frustrated most by the university bureaucracy, at its frequent lapses in communication, at its uncommon lack of speed and consistency.

Agreements are forged at one level, a source said, but sometimes not explained to those directly involved with the policy -- and with Ross.

Football recruits are the fresh blood that keeps a school's athletic department healthy and its name fresh beyond the immediate community.

Sometimes the applications of recruits get placed at the bottom of stacks of hundreds, and go unattended for months, sources said.

In one case, the delay was so long that a player was not advised he was accepted last year until it was too late to enroll in the fall. He took some courses elsewhere, and was admitted the next semester.

One story hopping about the athletic offices is that the extraordinary delay in his 10-year contract being processed led Ross to choose the shorter one. Ross did say: "What Dick released (about the 10-year deal in early December) was not inaccurate. We had agreed in principle. We just hadn't worked out the terms."

Inconsistency in admitting players also is said to be troubling to Ross. A source said Ross was given a set of guidelines for admission when he was interviewed for the job more than three years ago.

That has changed.

Reportedly, players with borderline academic credentials who were admitted in prior years either were not this spring, or were accepted conditionally.

Both Ross and Dull were said to be upset enough about that to have offered their resignations, but were talked out of it.

"Not true," Ross said.

Still, friends insist the coach remains angry that the admissions policy does not remain constant from year to year.

Both the university and Ross are gambling with the short-term contract. The coach's leverage would be hampered if the Terrapins fail at least to challenge for the national title; Maryland could lose an exceptional talent if Ross actually delivers a dream-like season -- and cannot be accommodated.

The numbers Ross was eager to discuss yesterday were those five Penn State tight ends 6 feet 4 or taller the Terrapins will face Sept. 7, that the Nittany Lions returned nine of 10 linebackers and eight of nine defensive backs.

"Also," he said, "I saw that (D.J.) Dozier kid just hurdle a Syracuse guy. Took off over him and kept going."

For Ross, it was very likely the first time in his coaching career that preparing for a big game had been a pleasant diversion.