Well, what do you think, will he stay? Or will he go?

(Who are we talking about, Big Boy?)

(No, stupid, Bobby Ross.)


You want news? Yesterday morning a source close to the Ross family said the odds were greater than 50-50 that Ross will leave Maryland.

(And go where?)

(If he goes, does it really matter where?)

You want conflicting news? Yesterday afternoon that same source said it was now a "coin flip" whether Ross would leave. And Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director, said he was "confident" Ross would stay.

You want opinion? I think Ross is a fine coach, who puts an exciting team on the field and he'll be missed whenever he goes. It's a plus for Maryland if Ross stays. But even if he goes, the sun still will rise in the east.

For months now we have read that Ross has been reluctant to sign a 10-year contract at Maryland unless and until Maryland satisfies him in two specific areas of concern: improvement of Byrd Stadium and a firm set of academic guidelines. He wants a bigger, better stadium so he can better compete for recruits with schools that have bigger, better stadia. And he wants a firm set of academic guidelines so he is sure who will and who won't be admitted to Maryland. Ross has been embarrassed before in this area, telling recruits with certainty that they would be admitted only to later find out that they did not meet Maryland's academic standards.

By offering a 10-year contract, Maryland indicated its ardor for Ross.

By tabling it and signing a one-year contract, instead, Ross indicated that he preferred, under the circumstances, to play the coquette.

(Or as we say in rock 'n roll: I hear you knockin' but you can't come in.)

If what we read in the papers is correct, Maryland is attempting to satisfy both of Ross's concerns. Academic guidelines are being completed for the entire athletic department that would allow the annual admission of 10-15 students who won't qualify to play immediately under the new NCAA standards for freshmen eligibility. Presumably, Ross would get the heaviest share of that group, and presumably that group would include the kind of attractive recruits he thinks he's losing to other schools. On the Byrd watch, John B. Slaughter, the chancellor of the College Park campus, has endorsed a proposal for a $9 million expansion of Byrd Stadium. That proposal, however, needs approval by the university board of regents and the state legislature, a process that is expected to take at least one month.

But yesterday a source close to the family set the odds of approval of the Byrd proposal by the regents and legislature at a pessimistic "25 percent." The same source spoke discouragingly of the specific admissions policy, saying, "They'll tell you one thing, then six months later do another."

Last week, Ross reportedly said he wouldn't leave Maryland for another job, only for a matter of principle. Ross has called Maryland out publicly, asking the school to make good on what it previously promised. How the school responds will determine if he stays. Ross probably is trying to decide this: Should he trust Maryland's commitment and stay, even though those promises aren't signed, sealed and delivered? (Of course if Ross goes, whoever comes will get everything Ross wanted in the first place. This is known as making up for your mistakes.)

Now here's the downside potential for Maryland: To keep Ross the school has to satisfy him. Is the University of Maryland, which often talks about raising its academic standards, going to be perceived as a school that would lower them to appease a football coach? Is Chancellor Slaughter going to be perceived as having put athletic interests over academic interests? These days hardly a week goes by without another college athletic scandal; athletes lining up to admit they've been bought and paid for. Here in the '80s, will Maryland find it comfortable to be thought of as The University of Football at College Park?

As I said before, Ross is a fine coach who puts an exciting team onto the field. Four straight 8-3 regular seasons, four straight bowl games, three ACC champions and an official 22-1 conference record. Which school wouldn't want a coach with a record like that?

Ross has been courted before and left other places before. The road he took to Maryland someday will be the road he leaves on. Whenever he goes, Maryland football will be stung. On the other hand, when Jerry Claiborne left, Maryland found a gem in Ross. Who's to say Maryland can't find another?

It goes without saying that Ross will do what he feels best for his family and his career. I suspect if Ross remains a college coach, he'll want to go to the school that gives him the best opportunity to win the national championship.

If he thinks that school is Maryland, we'll know soon enough.