Right for Maryland, Right for The Big Ten

On Saturday we provided an updated look at the possibility of the University of Maryland moving to the Big Ten. This was a story we had been covering for the past 2.5 years as a possibility, but still caught us a bit by surprise when it was on the verge of coming to fruition.

Over the weekend, I went from logical understanding, to emotional acceptance. By the time the move was formally agreed to Monday, I was fully on-board. I felt better about the move, the more I thought about it.

There are ACC teams I enjoy playing and beating (and those fan-bases feel the same about beating MD), but no opposing fan-base looks at MD as their primary rival. So, the idea that MD will not play Duke or UNC or UVA or NCST (at-least as much) does not matter to me much. All I really care about is Maryland’s success. As a fan of the Terrapins, all that matters is to me is what Maryland does.

I realize there are other fans of the Terrapins who have lingering doubts, or dislike the move entirely. For them, I suggest reading this from Sports Illustrated, and this from Testudo Times.

Even if you are not ready to applaud the move, I think it would be hard for any Maryland fan to read those two articles and present a logical argument in disagreement.

Everyone everywhere understands this move is being made primarily as a financial concern (and not just from the perspective of Maryland, but also from that of the Big Ten). I guess I find it surprising, and somewhat amusing to read multiple takes of National reporters shaking their collective heads at the move for both Maryland and the Big Ten.

Let’s look at some of those articles.

Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel says, “The Big Ten sacrificed quality for cash.”  Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel agrees.

This is such limited vision. The Big Ten gains two more members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, additional cable viewers, increased coverage in NY, Washington, and Baltimore. They also get two capable athletic programs, including football. Yes, I said football.

It is true that Maryland’s football program has only been a Top 25 program 8 times in the last 35 years. That is the definition of mediocre. Clearly the Terps have also had a rough stretch the last few years. A horrible 2009, followed by the resurgent 2010, followed by the disaster of Edsall’s first year last season, followed by all the ridiculous injuries this year.

Here is the truth, if this move was coming off the heels of the Top 25 finish in 2010; there would be discussion of a program with several positives joining the Big Ten. Since this move is coming off last year’s 10 loss season, and Maryland is limping to the finish line here in 2012 – the talking points are that Maryland is a football program beyond repair.

If you want to say that even if the Terps had stayed healthy, they would have only won 6-7 games – that is fair. If you want to say that citing injuries is a crutch, please point to any other program in the country that could have gotten past the QB injuries Maryland has had.

I don’t think it is being overly optimistic to point out that Maryland is not too far removed from a 1/2 decade of sustained success (competitive teams, several Top 25 finishes), and 2010 was a recent example of Maryland being capable of quickly turning things around.

Maryland’s success (or lack thereof) during the past 35 years, does not make me believe that Maryland will be perennial bottom feeders in football in the Big Ten. Like this decision to join the Big Ten as a whole, this move is about the future, not the past. Obviously Wetzel and Mandel believe that because Maryland has not been a power, they are not capable of being one. By that logic, the Terrapins might as well close down the program. One might have said the same thing to Boise State 15 years ago. Heck, in August it was being debated Nationally if Notre Dame would ever again be relevant on the field. If the Fighting Irish win Saturday, they will get the opportunity to play for a National Championship in January.

The point is programs can change. The perspective of a program can change. Writing that this is a poor move for the Big Ten, because Maryland’s program is currently down, shows a lack of big-picture thinking.

If the Terps football program is operating optimally, I feel they can be the Top 35 program they should be in any conference. Meaning that I think Maryland can be regularly competitive, winning 7-8 games and going to lower-tier bowls. Occasionally worse, occasionally better.

If you disagree, why do you?

Obviously there are 5 schools in the Big Ten with huge football programs (Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Penn State), with Michigan State, and Purdue probably leading the next tier.

There are a number of huge stadiums, and obviously a lot of program investment at those Universities.

I still think Maryland can be competitive in that league. The Terps have to keep the best talent in MD, DC, NOVA at home, and be able to reach into Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, and Western PA.

I would think that playing in the Big Ten, might be more attractive for some recruits and might make it more likely for Maryland to keep the increasing local talent home.

You can look back at the recruiting rankings at ESPN, Scout, Rivals, 24/7 the last few years, and you can see there is a fair amount of local talent that is increasing on an annual basis.

Maryland won’t go into the Big Ten and regularly finish above Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Penn State. However, when Maryland is going right, they will win games against those teams, and occasionally have years where they surprise. Should the Terps get to the point where they close off their boarders, retaining all of the top local talent, and the Under Armour backing starts really paying off – watch out. Maryland may yet prove to be a sleeping giant.

As the linked Testudo Times article above stated, “Northwestern has won three Big Ten titles since 1995. Illinois and Purdue have gone to Rose Bowls since the turn of the century; Michigan State and Iowa have won title shares in the past few years. And we’re saying there’s absolutely no way Maryland can conceivably compete?”

The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy wrote, “Maryland is leaving behind logic.

I am a fan of Mr. DeCourcy. We’ve interviewed him several times here at BSL, and I appreciate how he has been generous with his time. In one of our previous interviews, DeCourcy made clear he objected to the changing landscape of college sports. I respect that opinion, and frankly part of me agrees. Ultimately though, the landscape has changed, and Maryland (like most Universities) had to make a decision they believed was in their best interests.

DeCourcy opens with stating, “This is not about tradition. This is not about history. This is not about money. And please, spare me the business about academics. This is about sports. At its core, sports will determine whether what Maryland has done to its athletic department by accepting an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference is a triumph (their contention) or a calamity (the more likely scenario).”

With respect to DeCourcy, I think this misses the mark. It is about the money. I do agree it is about the sports as well, but having a financially viable athletic department, is what is best going to support athletic success going forward.

Where I completely disagree is with the contention that this has any chance of being a calamity. There is potential for this to be only mildly successful, but I think there is next-to-no chance of this being a calamity. There is passion for Maryland athletics. That passion will continue regardless of who Maryland is playing. I agree that the bread-and-butter of Maryland sports will remain Men’s Basketball. Coach Turgeon and his staff will have to sell recruits on playing for Maryland. That is it. Playing at one of the best Arenas in College sports, in one of the 2 or 3 best basketball Conferences in the country; is not that hard of a sell. Especially when Turgeon will only have to convince some of the best local talent to stay home, to regularly have good recruiting classes.

Maryland basketball will have a chance to hang multiple banners in the immediate future. With 3 teams in the Top 5, and MD outside the Top 25; I’m sure the Big Ten is not ‘afraid’ of the Terps right now, but they will learn to Fear the Turtle.

I really don’t think that is bluster. If Howard and Allen can team to be a ‘league average’ PG; the rest of the team this year is good enough to win the ACC. I expect a minimum of a Sweet 16 appearance this year.

It would pretty shocking to see Len return next year, so that will be an adjustment. Even without Len, Cleare and Mitchell will be back in the post, and will be more experienced. Peters will improve MD at PG. Dodd will help replace the lost post depth. Turgeon has said Smotrycz was playing as well as anyone outside of Len and Wells in practice.

My point is that I believe MD will be coming off two very good years as they prepare to enter the Big Ten.

Maryland’s decision to join the Big Ten was the right decision for Maryland. Extending the invitation to Maryland, was the right decision for the Big Ten. In due time, those truths will become apparent to all.

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About the author

Chris Stoner   

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.

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