This was made perfectly clear on Wednesday, when Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski appeared on ESPN 980 to discuss his upcoming “Leadership in Coaching” award dinner at the Omni Shoreham in Washington. Sports Fix host Kevin Sheehan, a massive Maryland fan, was lamenting the end of what had been a terrific rivalry for Maryland supporters. The coach shared in his lament.
“The quality of athlete on the court and then the atmosphere that they were able to play in really brought out some special moments,” Coach K agreed, discussing the Duke-Maryland games of the late ’90s and early 2000s. “You can’t just say you’re going to replicate that in another conference right away. That was already there. It was established over a period of time, and that won’t happen again. That’s not gonna happen again, because we’re not gonna schedule them. It’s tough to schedule anybody when you have 18 conference games. But when we schedule non-conference, it’s usually outside of our conference area, so that we play national teams.”
Sheehan talked a bit more about what that rivalry meant to Maryland.
“The way you talked about it conjures up these memories for me, too,” Krzyzewski said. “As a competitor, you want to be in those situations. And if you can win in those situations, those were great. And if you lost, you knew you got that team’s best shot. And it was gonna make you better.”
So Coach K was then asked whether he could see a day when the teams would face each other again, even if only in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
“Well, that would be the only way it would be done, because we won’t schedule Maryland,” he answered. “And there’s nothing to that, just that it doesn’t work out for us to do that. That’s the only way it would happen, if they continue the Big 10-ACC.
“And by the way, these conferences, they keep adding teams,” he said as an aside. “Why don’t they put the right number [in their names]? I forget how many teams are in all these conferences, including our own sometimes, but I can just say it’s the ACC. I can get away with that. That was smart of our conference to do that. It’s a little bit crazy what’s going on all over.”
Jokes aside, hearing him flatly rule out the possibility of even a one-off game with Maryland was a bit unhappy. Because I do agree with Sheehan on one of his recurring points: If I could only go to one live sporting event in the D.C. area in a given year, the Maryland-Duke basketball game would usually be my choice. (Cowboys-Redskins is obviously more significant, but I find it a less pleasant experience. Caps-Penguins can be great. Also, the Kastles against, I dunno, the Sportimes or something.)
Krzyzewski also had fine things to say about visiting College Park, even though the atmosphere was often contentious and hostile.
“You felt not just a team that you were playing against; you felt that community, that Maryland spirit, the passion to win and to beat us,” he said. “And we’ve won some there, we’ve lost, but there’s never been a game there that was dull. It’s really one of the premiere games of the year for the conference, and I think it helped both programs.”
As for the larger theme of conference realignment, the longtime Duke coach sounded a familiar theme.
“It’s a train that’s left the station a long time ago, and basketball has not been a conductor of that train of change,” he said. “Football has been…..I think it was gonna move at some time, because things are always changing in our society, and it didn’t change for such a long time in sport. But with so much money being able to be made, people eventually don’t want to share it with everyone. I think it produces this thought process of going into these mega conferences. And I’m sorry that Maryland’s not in the ACC….I’ve spoken about it and I’ll continue to speak about it. And I wish they were still with us. You know, it doesn’t seem right, them not being in the ACC. And I wish that that didn’t happen….
“The fans, and the alums, the people who follow these sports so religiously for their schools — I think when these decisions are made, I’m not sure that that is on the front burner, the feelings of the fans,” he said. “Their decisions are not made about rivalries and tradition. They’re made for money, and because of money. And they are going to try to build new traditions, but the ones that you just talked about are really good traditions, and you hate to see them go by the wayside.”