Correction: Earlier versions of this column described the Notre Dame-Maryland football game scheduled for this fall at FedEx field as a Maryland home game that the university signed a deal to move. The game was never scheduled to be played on Maryland’s home field; it is an off-site home game for Notre Dame. This version has been corrected.
Maryland is not a football school. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just isn’t. Hasn’t been for years. Possibly — even probably — it never will be. You can’t wave a magic wand and become a football power. You can improve your facilities and expand your stadium and try to attract top-tier nonconference opponents, but that alone isn’t going to get it done.
Maryland is a basketball school. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, although from a revenue point of view, it’s not as desirable. But better to be a basketball school than to excel in neither sport. Because those two sports are your moneymakers. Period.
Maryland tried to become a football school, and had a couple of very good seasons and bowl appearances under Ralph Friedgen. But then it foolishly spent a lot of money adding seats and boxes to Byrd Stadium based on a little success.
My alma mater did much the same thing. The Kansas football team had a couple of good seasons and one great one, culminating in an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. The stadium was in dire need of renovation, but as usual, officials went too far, adding suites for the pack of fat cats that would be thinned by the economy and rewarding longtime fans by shoving them into end zone seating. Then there was scandal, the firing of the coach, the resignation of the athletic director, and most of that happened because a basketball school tried to be a football school.
Some schools manage to be both. Until a few months ago, Ohio State was a good example of that. Of course, vacating a season doesn’t mean refunding the money made during that season, so perhaps they still are both. We’ll see.
When Maryland President Wallace D. Loh unveiled a 17-member panel this week to look for ways to cut costs and increase revenues in the Terps’ athletic department, it was a sign that the chickens had come home to roost, and there are plenty of empty Byrd seats to accommodate them.
Athletic Director Kevin Anderson is not on the panel and was on vacation when the announcement was made. Thus begins the insulation of Anderson from the inevitable backlash when programs are cut.
And make no mistake: Programs will be cut. Maryland has 27, more than most Division I schools, and that won’t last. That’s a shame because beyond men’s basketball, here’s what Maryland athletics also is: really successful in a lot of non-revenue sports. The Terrapins have won national championships in field hockey, women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer in the past five years. They also won the 2006 title in women’s basketball, a sport few schools have turned into a moneymaker.
Most likely, none of these sports will be threatened. But Maryland probably will end up dropping similar programs because it wildly misjudged its place on the college football landscape.
Title IX will take the blame for some of the upcoming carnage, because you can’t cut women’s programs without balancing that with cuts in the men’s programs.
But the lion’s share of the anger should be directed toward those who failed to be realistic about what Maryland is — and isn’t. The Terps wanted to be a football power, but used to sell home games to rivals to make money. That was perhaps not an encouraging message to alums.
Then they expanded the stadium to attract more of these same alums — but signed deals to move premier games to NFL stadiums (Notre Dame to FedEx Field this season and West Virginia and Virginia Tech to Baltimore in future seasons).
These weren’t mixed messages; they were signs that there was no message at all. If the commission accomplishes nothing else, perhaps it can lay out a clear mission statement for Maryland: what it can be, and what it can’t.