Sunday, November 18, 2012

Maryland to the Big Ten? Hey, I live in Maryland!

Upon hearing that the Big Ten was in negotiations to add Rutgers and Maryland, my first thought was "Why?" My second thought was "I live in Maryland! I can provide some perspective on this proposed conference expansion!" Upon further thought, the reason for adding Rutgers is obvious: Jim Delaney wants to determine whether or not Brady Hoke and Chris Christie are the same person.*

As for Maryland, that's a more difficult nut to crack. The best way to be sure that adding Maryland to the Big Ten is a bad idea is that Under Armour founder and Maryland ├╝ber-booster Kevin Plank is for it. Since Under Armour started trying to turn Maryland into its east coast version of Nike's Oregon, the only great moment Maryland football has experienced is this:

The heraldic term for the red and white Crosslands sigil is a "bottery."
They won that game, but summoned Angry Maryland Quarterback Hating God in the process. It hasn't been pretty. Even Maryland alumni I know are showing no interest in Maryland football these days. Last year, Maryland needed a LivingSocial deal to fill out the upper deck when they played Notre Dame at FedEx Field. Groupons and LivingSocial for big games are not the signs of a healthy program - in contrast, sometimes Georgetown basketball has LivingSocial deals, but they use the deals for filling out the stands against weak non-conference opponents.

Maryland is primarily an NFL state. The northeast simply does not have the pride in its state university athletic teams that the rest of the country does. (Michigan State will never be able to accuse anyone of being a "Target Terrapin.") On Sundays, grocery stores and casual restaurants allow their employees to dress in NFL jerseys. No such policy exists on Saturdays. The boundary between Pittsburgh and Baltimore fans can be carefully traced through Frederick County. The main difference between Ravens fans and Redskins fans is demographic: the younger generation is more likely to be Ravens fans as they've experienced little from Dan Snyder's team but poor play and continually dashed expectations.

The boundary between Steelers and Ravens country is less convoluted than the
boundaries of most Maryland congressional districts.
In terms of college football support, Washington and its surrounding area is a pastiche. The leading teams are Maryland, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Penn State, but the nature of Washington (like New York) is that there's an alumni base from almost every major university. This means that each current Big Ten school has a significant alumni base in the area. Of course, so does every SEC school, ACC school, Big East school, and Big XII school. The prize Maryland offers is getting the Big Ten Network on DC basic cable and the gamble is that the built-in Big Ten alumni bases will put enough pressure on the cable providers to make it happen.

The downside is that the Big Ten has to put up with Maryland's dysfunctional athletic department. An athletic department that would willingly hire Randy Edsall has issues. Maryland is not an exciting football opponent and not, for the moment, an exciting basketball opponent. They'll definitely be useful in establishing a B1G lacrosse conference, but right now the only revenue they offer is the possibility of basic cable revenue.

You may think the silver lining is having a road game every 2-3 years in the DC metro area. While visiting DC is definitely a good idea, visiting College Park, not so much. Despite the WMATA's optimistically naming a Green Line station "College Park - U of MD," the station is two miles from the university, so it's not convenient to stay in a more exciting part of DC and then take public transportation to the game, especially if you're a visitor. This situation should be resolved around 2030 or so or whenever Montgomery County and Prince George's County get the Purple Line built.

You may now be thinking, "Maybe I don't need to see the rest of DC. College Park has got to be cool, right? It's a college town!" You'd be thinking wrong, pardner. You'd figure that the permanent residents of a city called College Park wouldn't have too many problems with students living there. Silly you for thinking that! Someone I very much dislike once said that College Park was the worst college town he'd ever seen, and I really couldn't disagree with him. For Pete Stormare's sake, College Park has an IKEA! Do you know where IKEA builds stores? In the middle of nowhere, that's where! It's an OK place to drink and party like a college student, but why leave your own college town to do that?

Academically, Maryland is somewhat underrated in the public's eye (Rutgers too). Their undergraduate and graduate programs are quite solid, and they wouldn't hurt the Big Ten's academic reputation/sense of superiority the way adding, say, Louisville would. Not as good a get in science and engineering as Georgia Tech would be, but probably just as good as an all-around choice.

All in all, Mehryland gets a solid Meh. If they help the Big Ten get the TV money, then everyone's a winner; if they don't, everyone breaks even. From a pure sporting perspective, the two schools to grab while keeping the "footprint" intact are Kansas & Oklahoma. But they don't bring the markets or the academic prestige. Besides, Oklahoma's best long-term position is to be the villain on Longhorn Network programming. Eventually all this super-conference stuff will shake out and the B1G will have sixteen teams and we'll say we've always counted in hexadecimal. As long as the Big ten can claim "Tradition!" it'll be all right.

*They are. That's why Brady Hoke is always wearing clothes that say "Michigan" and why Chris Christie's clothes have "Governor" embroidered on them. It's to help Hoke/Christie remember the role he's currently playing.

1 comment:

Daniel De Kok said...

Forget Maryland--I want to see Michigan and Rutgers at the Meadowlands!