It was meant to be hyperbole. But was it?
Maryland and Rutgers are in their sixth seasons playing football in the Big Ten. The numbers are horrific. Rutgers has a 5-38 record in conference games not played against Maryland. This season, with games left against Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State, the Scarlet Knights are 0-6 in conference games and have been outscored 245-24. Their closest game was a 38-10 loss to Illinois.
By comparison, Maryland is a juggernaut — even coming off a 73-14 loss at Ohio State in which the Buckeyes led 42-0 at halftime and played everyone but the guy who dotted the “I” in script Ohio at halftime.
Maryland has two games left, against Nebraska and Michigan State, both of whom have losing records. Unlike Rutgers, they might be able to salvage another win before the season comes to a merciful conclusion.
Rutgers’s five non-Maryland victories — the Terrapins are 4-2 in their series with the Scarlet Knights — came against a 5-7 pre-Harbaugh Michigan team and a 4-8 Indiana in 2014, Indiana again in 2015, and against Illinois (in the midst of a winless Big Ten season) and Purdue in 2017.
Maryland was 4-4 in its first conference season, able to get wins over that mediocre Michigan team that Rutgers beat and a Penn State team still in recovery after the Sandusky scandal. In the four-plus seasons after that, the Terrapins have 10 conference wins, only one over a team that finished the season with a winning record (7-6 Minnesota last year).
Rutgers and Maryland joined the conference beginning in 2014 for one reason: money. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who would sell his soul to anyone to make an extra buck, saw many extra bucks in getting into the New York and Washington markets — the better to enhance his Big Ten TV network.
Maryland was desperate for money, having been forced to cut seven nonrevenue sports programs while digging out from a budget hole. The Maryland administration was forced, for all intents and purposes, to sell its football players to the wolves — or, more accurately, the Wolverines, Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Spartans — to dial for Big Ten TV dollars.
Rutgers always has had outsize ambitions for its football program. Like Maryland in the ACC, it was doing just fine in the Big East, competing with the other second-tier football schools and going to second-tier bowls on a regular basis. (Of course, the 1995 move from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East was disastrous for men’s basketball.)
Maryland has done just fine in basketball in the Big Ten, although the electricity that used to pulse through the building when Duke and North Carolina came to town is long gone.
Football has been an unmitigated disaster. Four head coaches in the six seasons since joining the Big Ten doesn’t begin to tell the story. During the entire Jordan McNair tragedy — from the medical staff’s failure to prevent his death from exertional heatstroke to the Board of Trustees voting to retain DJ Durkin as coach until overwhelmingly negative public response forced them to reverse themselves and fire Durkin — if there was a way to make a terrible situation worse, Maryland found it.
Rutgers is only on its third coach — an interim at the moment — but its on-field results have been even more pathetic than Maryland’s. I shudder to think what the score will be Saturday when Ohio State shows up to play the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway. The Buckeyes could probably bring their JV team and win by three touchdowns.
Forget for a moment about the question of whether college players should be paid. In this case, the players are the ones paying for the money-grabbing and the mistakes made by the alleged adults.
It’s the players who are getting beaten up physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s the players who have to walk the campus each week after losing by laughingstock scores. It’s the players who wake up Saturday mornings in the fall knowing they have just about no chance of winning that day.
How do you think Maryland’s players felt Saturday being down 42-0 at the half in front of 100,000 people and a national television audience? How will the Rutgers players feel this Saturday?
Maryland was doing just fine in the ACC as a football program — quite well until the incredibly shortsighted firing of Ralph Friedgen in 2010 — and surely would have remained competitive in basketball. In 10 seasons as Maryland’s coach, Friedgen won at least nine games on five occasions. Raise your hand if you think that’s going to happen once anytime soon.
As long as Maryland and Rutgers are part of the Big Ten East, they’re going to have to play Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State every year. Since that first outlier season when Penn State and Michigan were down, the Terrapins have one win against those four — beating that 3-9 Michigan State team. They came close against Ohio State a year ago, but this isn’t horseshoes. It’s football.
The ongoing excuse this fall at Maryland has been injuries — and there have been plenty of them. Injuries, however, are part of football and are more likely when you are physically overmatched. The Terrapins didn’t have that problem in the ACC. Except for Florida State in the old days and Clemson today, they could compete with anyone in the conference.
Rutgers has one win against the Big Ten East’s big four — the 2014 victory over Michigan. Since the Scarlet Knights beat Maryland in 2017, they have lost 18 straight Big Ten games, almost all by blowout margins.
Rutgers was in a difficult situation when the Big East began to fall apart as a football conference. But it didn’t have to run after the Big Ten’s money. It could have joined the American Athletic Conference — not the Big Ten but a competitive league — or could have played a reasonable independent schedule for a couple of years until a better conference opportunity came along. Football’s not like basketball, where an independent has no chance to play in the postseason. The minor bowls will take just about anybody with a pulse.
The money would have been less, but at least the players wouldn’t have been humiliated week after week.
Stern was joking when he made his child abuse comment. Sadly, what has happened is no joke.