Neither the indomitable will of John Thompson Jr. nor the stubborn pride of Gary Williams can stop it. Not even Kevin Anderson taking his ball and going home will prevent a collision between two deserving teams on the cusp of playing for a national championship.
Finally, after old, needless grudges between adults kept the kids apart for way too long, Maryland and Georgetown meet . . . on the soccer pitch.
Okay, it’s not John Thompson III’s 15th-ranked Hoyas men’s basketball team vs. Mark Turgeon’s NCAA tournament-hopeful Terrapins, but two great men’s soccer teams will play each other in the national semifinals in Alabama on Friday, with their zeal for a championship superseding one of the most ill-conceived athletic department policies in the nation.
“Have you gotten confirmation they are allowed to play?” Georgetown Coach Brian Wiese quipped with heavy sarcasm to The Washington Post’s Steven Goff this week. “We are still waiting to see if this game is going to happen.”
He added: “It’s a funny joke. [Schools not playing one another] wasn’t Sasho’s idea. It wasn’t ours, either.”
No, it wasn’t the idea of Sasho Cirovski, Maryland’s 20th-year coach. Rather, it was his athletic director who upped the ante last February.
When we last left the smoldering relationship between the two most prominent college athletic programs in the Washington area, Anderson had detonated it. Sick and tired of a feud from the last millennium between Gary and Big John over who owed whom a game and why, Anderson issued an edict that no Maryland team would schedule a Georgetown team until the schools agreed to play each other in men’s basketball.
Big John, whom Georgetown still pays and who is still in spirit the patriarch of the Hoyas athletic family, basically told Anderson, via radio, he is the baddest man in the whole damn town, and that threats like that are foolish.
Little John just shook his head, knowing intuitively that Thompsons move very glacially when confronted; they like doing the confronting.
Almost a year later, Anderson’s sanctions are only hurting his own strained budget. A Georgetown-Maryland hoop extravaganza is still a non-starter. Neither side has apparently reached out to the other.
Anderson declined to be interviewed for this story, preferring perhaps diplomatic, behind-the-scenes channels in the future rather than publicly going nuclear.
It should also be noted that the scheduling stalemate will end next season, according to a Maryland official, with a field hockey game between the schools. Georgetown, which doesn’t have a field hockey field, paid Maryland for their use of its field this past season.
It’s not a complete thaw, but it’s a start.
It’ll be the first time in more than a year that Maryland, with 14 men’s and women’s sports in common with Georgetown, has scheduled a regular season game against a university a mere 10.73 miles away, a trip that is cheaper on the travel budget than, say, Lincoln, Neb., where the Terrapins will soon be traveling as members of the Big Ten.
This is usually the point at which you are given the back story of why there hasn’t been a scheduled men’s basketball game between Maryland and Georgetown since the night the Terrapins arrived as a program under Williams, knocking off Big John’s Hoyas at Capital Centre in 1993. But what’s the use?
Like boxers Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather dancing around each other for years at the expense of their dying sport, anticipation and hope has been replaced by apathy and ambivalence.
At this point, I really don’t care if they ever play.
And if Georgetown and Maryland ever can get past the ego and hard feelings and realize that being right doesn’t always mean being happy, I’m not going to celebrate the rebirth of what could have been one of the greatest local college basketball rivalries in the country. I’m going to mourn never getting to see Len Bias try to dunk on Patrick Ewing’s head, Allen Iverson crossing over Joe Smith.
Over a three-year span I could have seen Greivis Vasquez try to shake Jeff Green or get his shot past Roy Hibbert. A master motivator and teacher like Gary Williams could have matched wits against Big John’s son, one of the game’s best tacticians. JTIII’s patterned Princeton offense vs. Gary’s flex offense, Comcast and Verizon shaking with noise. Heck, Dave Neal trying to guard Greg Monroe in the Old Spice Classic in 2008 was entertaining. But it was just the third time in 28 years the two teams played — and two of those times they were forced to play each other.
Their ridiculous pride war, with both schools’ presidents allowing the strong personalities of their former coaches to dictate unsound decisions that had major financial implications, has already cost their fan bases and their universities so much money and so many memories.
If I were the BB&T Classic folks and I couldn’t get a commitment from Maryland or Georgetown for my event next season, I would take the corporate sponsor and TV-money hit, raise fewer dollars for charity but actually have some teams excited to play in my event. I’d turn Smith Center into an old-fangled tournament setting for George Washington, George Mason, American, Navy and any other area college team that wanted to be part of something bigger than its own RPI.
That might not be the greatest financial decision, either. But at least those schools would have had the guts to schedule one another in basketball.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.