I hate college football. I guess there's no sense not addressing the elephant in the room. I can't not - Maryland has changed so many of my opinions about college sports in one day that I never thought could be changed.
More specifically, I no longer have opinions about things. I stopped caring. People don't like "conventional wisdom" because it's conventional. I like it because it's wisdom. Conventional wisdom dictated that we were finally settling into an equilibrium again. Now there is no conventional wisdom. Does the Big Ten sit around or find more markets to try and put the BTN into? Does the SEC look to the ACC for two more members themselves? What happens to the Big East? Are we headed towards, not 4x16, but 5x16? Who knows? I don't give a damn any more.
I'm serious about that. The Virginia I signed up for played southeastern teams in a southeastern-oriented conference, and had been doing so for decades. When and if there is ever an end to the carousel spinning, it won't. It already doesn't. The conference schedule in 2001 included eight opponents: Clemson, Duke, Maryland, UNC, FSU, NC State, Wake, GT. The conference schedule 15 years later may include as few as three of them, and that's assuming maximum stability, which is to say we're still in the ACC, which still exists with the same teams it has today (minus what's-their-names) and they don't shuffle the divisions.
A reader asked via email if UVA is the team most hurt by Maryland's move to the B1G. The answer, again assuming some degree of stability, is emphatically yes. We lose a rival. (And make no mistake: if we ever play them again, in anything, after they leave, I'll be disappointed in the total lack of spine displayed by our administration. I want to play Maryland, yes: in the ACC. If they want to continue their ties with ACC teams, then stay in the ACC. If they don't want to be in the ACC, they can embrace Michigan State, their new cross-division rival-like substance.) Not only that, but the Big Ten has a much larger inroad to the DC area and our two recruiting home states than they've ever had before. Florida State, on the other hand, who thinks they should replace Carolina and Duke as the recipient of conference asskissage, probably thinks we should tell the Terps to GTFO tomorrow.
Indeed, if the Floridians get their way - and with a charter, and notably northern, member of the ACC departing, they will see an opportunity to start throwing a little weight around - they will split the conference up strictly along north-south lines. The ramifications are obvious: we are further cut off from the conference's southern roots, and face a future of fantastically traditional games against Boston College, Pittsburgh, and, like, Louisville, or UConn. Shit, we wouldn't even have Miami to kick around anymore.
So it's disappointing to lose a rival. What's really infuriating are the reasons. The balance sheet at the Maryland athletic dept. is a tire fire. (Or, more apropos, a couch fire.) This is not because of the ACC. Everyone else is doing fine. Maryland's finances suck because of Maryland. Naturally, they'd need a bigger slice of revenue, so their reward for mismanaging their finances and destroying the careers and opportunities of athletes in seven different sports (the ones they cut just to get themselves out of debt by 2019) is to get it. If Wake Forest had done that, there's no way they'd get that golden parachute - Maryland gets it because Charles Benedict Calvert bought some acres of land a few miles outside of Washington, DC instead of Salisbury, thus putting them inside a TV market. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is doing something that every Big Ten fan hates because Jim Delany got butthurt about Notre Dame going to the ACC. He said that. Not in so few words, but he said that.
Not to mention that truer words were never spoken by an unlikely source: ESPN. Oh sure, this is one of ten thousand articles they've written that say the powers that be in college sports are greedy greeding greedsters (although with each passing day it gets more and more true), but you can't possibly disagree with the following truism: "There is no real need -- emphasize need -- to do any of this, other than you can and you want to." At this point we are talking about making huge money piles ever larger for.....what?
Which brings us to Maryland themselves. Rutgers I'm less concerned about, except that as a fan of a Big Ten team, I hate adding a school of no real worth, outside of their large alumni base and geographical location, to the conference. But you can't hardly fault Rutgers for the decision. But Maryland?
Maryland, as you'll recall, burned down their own balance sheet long ago, and is heavily in debt. They'll get more money from the B1G than they would've gotten from the ACC, and that helps. But what is the point? Other than remaining solvent, what is the point of having money? So you can win. Maryland might get more money, but their new conference-mates get the same dough as Maryland does. And they're far more competitive in football - despite what you see this year, the Big Ten is simply a better football conference than the ACC. If you can't succeed in the ACC, and your stadium looks like this on game day, you will succeed....why? Maryland seems to think being in the Big Ten will fill their stadium. It won't. Supposedly the better competition will draw people in, which must be how they got 35,000 people to pay to see the FSU game. Even the crappiest Big Ten teams get more than that for even their crappiest games. And while other Big Ten teams are spending a quarter of a billion dollars on shiny new digs for their rowing team(!!) and myriad other upgrades, because they can, Maryland will be stretching that extra BTN money to try and justify keeping the volleyball team around for another year. This is because they're joining a conference with not one, not two, but three 100,000 seat stadiums in it, while they're half-filling the lower bowl of a stadium half that size.
Part of this is wishful thinking, of course. I'll miss hating Maryland, but I can still hate them. In fact this is more or less what I mean when I say old opinions are falling by the wayside: I'll be the biggest Buckeye and Sparty fan there is when Maryland is the opponent. Fuck them. If in ten years they're burying the Maryland athletic program because they continue to mismanage the money they have, I'll be first in line to piss on their grave. And while we're at it, if the various groups suing or considering suing the NCAA for evil sweatshop exploitation of their athletes, I might be cheering that on to victory too. Not because I think student-athletes should be paid like pros (yes, a scholarship and stipend plus the many perks is still payment enough) but just to see the bastards that are busy ruining college football lose a few of those golden eggs.
Of more pressing interest, however, is the age-old question of where we go from here. In that, I care much less than I used to. SEC? Fine, whatever. Big Ten? Fine, whatever, although I still hate that it would murder our baseball program. Maybe the ACC should just go to the Big Ten and say, hey, we'll all join your conference. You, the Big Ten, get to put your BTN in markets from Boston to Florida, and we'll just kind of be the other division.
More likely is some form of twisted and weird ACC. I'm not too concerned about John Swofford's ability to find teams to add, especially since I don't care about those either. UConn, Louisville, West Virginia, USF, UCF, ECU, Navy, whoever. It doesn't matter any more. Nobody gives a flying damn any more about quality of athletics or academics or geographical fit, it's just whether or not you can get as many eyes as possible to watch your TV programming. Hell, add Georgetown for all I care. That would be fun, and in fact I think we should start a series with Georgetown in everything we and they play, just so we can have our little No Maryland Allowed club. Hilarious.
No, I'm not concerned about Swofford's ability to find a replacement. The smart money's on UConn, of course, although I wouldn't rule out Louisville. He's proven himself to be pretty adept at finding ways to add members to the league. The question is, can he prevent any more departures? $50 million was supposed to do the trick. If it didn't stop the dirt-poorest athletic department from leaving, it probably won't stop anyone else, especially if Maryland finds a way to negotiate it down. (On this, the ACC has got to stand its ground. An ugly litigation does not concern me; in fact, the ACC should welcome one.) Swofford's job is to keep the ACC from being seen as Big East II: The New Poaching Grounds, and making it as difficult and unpalatable to leave is part of the job. He's got to balance a lot of demands and find a way to keep 14 schools happy, from Florida to North Carolina to Indiana. The conference can easily survive the loss of Maryland. It's only Maryland. It's like if the Big Ten lost Illinois. It needs to make sure Maryland is the only one.