Terps for sale -- Gazette.Net

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When a high school athlete takes cash to play for a university, we call it a recruiting scandal. But when a university takes cash to jump to a different conference, we call it a wise financial decision. You don’t buy that comparison? OK, explain how the University of Maryland abandoning the ACC for the Big Ten is any different from the National Football League’s Colts abandoning Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1984?

I accept that the Terps’ move was a financial necessity and that fans, tradition, loyalty and programs like lacrosse and soccer aren’t important.

I accept that secrecy and springing the announcement during Thanksgiving week were necessary to stifle backlash and finalize the deal.

I accept that the decision was made by a bunch of guys with no Maryland roots who couldn’t identify Buck Williams, Albert King, Randy White, Lamont Jordan or Gary Collins if you held a gun to their heads.

I accept that Byrd Stadium soon will be filled with Ohio State and Michigan fans, just like with Red Sox fans at O’s games and Phillies fans at Nats games.

I accept that in modern, big-time college sports the size of a university’s TV market is more important than the quality of its athletics or academics.

And I accept that buck-chasing and conference-hopping have become so prevalent that a conference calling itself the Big Ten now has 14 members, while the Big 12 has only 10; that the Atlantic Coast Conference includes schools located in Kentucky and Indiana, and that the misnamed Big East soon will include schools in California, Texas, Louisiana and Idaho!

But I’m still ticked off. I’m ticked off that university officials are trying to sell this as an academic initiative. Bull! During the Terps’ basketball glory years — 1999 to 2003 — only 8 percent of Maryland’s players graduated. So please don’t talk to me about academics.

I’m ticked off at what this move will do to Terps recruiting. High school athletes around here were raised on the ACC, they want to play against ACC teams. Washington Post columnist John Feinstein claims Maryland has no sports rivalries. Wrong, for true Terps fans every ACC game is a rivalry. But how would Feinstein know, he went to Duke.

Jumping ship from the ACC is going to cost us local recruits, while, conversely, we’ll have a huge recruiting disadvantage in the Big Ten’s Midwest. Why would a five-star player bypass Ohio State or Michigan to play for faraway, unheralded Maryland? Doesn’t make sense.

I’m ticked off at what this does to fans and to athletes’ families. We now belong to a conference located in a different time zone where the average distance for a Terps away game is 663 miles. See you at the Iowa game?

I’m ticked at who’s going to pay the Terps’ $52 million ACC exit fee and pay for all that coveted loot that’s supposed to balance the athletic department’s books. Go look in the mirror — it’s you. That’s right, The Big Ten could outbid the ACC for Maryland because The Big Ten has its own cable TV network that reached 73 million fans last year. But Big Ten fans pay to view — where else do you think the money comes from? So, starting in 2014 you’ll be paying, one way or another, to watch the Terps on TV.

I’m ticked because all this was avoidable. The financial calamity necessitating this move was caused by years of mismanagement.

First, Maryland hired a flawed athletic director, Debbie Yow, who operated 27 sports programs (more than nearly every other ACC school) by cooking the books. Rather than cut spending, Yow balanced the department’s budget by depleting financial reserves. Yet, with the program in financial crisis, she still signed off on Byrd Stadium’s $50 million Tyser Tower addition, whose empty sky suites are hemorrhaging money.

Another Yow boner was her football coach-in-waiting deal with Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin. Instead of an orderly succession, Maryland lost both coaches and ended up hiring Randy Edsall, whose 6-18 record is a disaster. Edsall blames injuries (are we in the ACC or the ACL?), but in hindsight, Maryland should have kept Franklin, who’s rejuvenating Vanderbilt’s football program.

And Yow didn’t get along with basketball coach Gary Williams — they didn’t speak to each other for five years. After winning the NCAA championship in 2001, Williams began coasting. His retirement should have come sooner, but nobody made that tough decision, just like nobody audited Yow’s books or tried to avert the department’s looming financial crisis.

Instead, Yow departed for N.C. State, the mediocre football and basketball teams lost revenue and the deficits exploded, resulting in seven sports programs being cut. And, now, the final fiasco — a desperate flight driven by financial need, to a conference with which we have nothing in common.

Kind of reminds you of how Maryland state government is managed: runaway spending and borrowing, excessive taxation driving off the tax base and then, when it all hits the fan, sell your soul to the gambling industry.

Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His email address is blair@leedg.com.