As a founding member of the ACC, Maryland's loss in the second round of the ACC Tournament signaled the end of 61 years in the conference. It also provided another glaring example of how the almighty dollar continues to shift, shape and shatter long-standing conference ties and the landscape of college sports.
Conference dedicated TV networks (BTN, Pac-12, Longhorn and the soon-to-arrive SEC Network) continue to entice tradition-rich teams to vacate their current conferences, forsaking history and geographical proximity for revenue sharing and financial security. In doing so, these universities knowingly destroy historic rivalries (Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Georgetown vs. Syracuse) and shred the spirit of loyal fans, proud alumni and sports enthusiasts everywhere, like a log through a woodchipper.
Conference realignment's contagious nature reached epidemic proportions between the 2011-2013 seasons, as these newly minted TV and multi-platform networks provided huge upsides for their members. Armed with deep pockets and an irresistible asset, conference commissioners and university presidents seized the chance to capitalize on their gains -- allegiances be damned.
The result: avid college sports fans were left scratching their heads and spewing venom, especially by those with teams splitting for greener pastures. It's one thing to witness such sacrilege from afar. It's an entirely different thing when your alma mater decides to make a similar move.
Maryland ended it's regular season with a win over No. 5 Virginia. While largely satisfying, it was also bittersweet. No amount of on-court celebration could mask what the game's final horn actually signified... Come next season the Terps will be playing in the Big Ten.
So many families, friends, teammates, coaches, fraternities and sororities have shared so many moments when it comes to Maryland athletics. While those memories will remain for a lifetime, the uncertainty of what lies ahead continues to drive a stake through the hearts of those who "Fear the Turtle."
From my parents and siblings to my cousins and Godfather, The University of Maryland is and has been an integral part of our lives for decades. Not only did we all graduate from Maryland, but also a number of us were student-athletes. Needless to say, we bleed Terrapin Red and each year looked forward to another series of highly charged, no-holds-barred, can't-miss ACC match-ups -- and not just in football and basketball, but in lacrosse, soccer and field hockey. Sadly, those days are all but gone.
In leaving behind everything this conference represents, the University of Maryland goes from a "founding father" to a very distant "redheaded stepchild." Not only is this disconcerting; it's dangerous -- starting with the potential loss of recruits, current players and coaches who clearly desire to ONLY play in the ACC. While at the same time running the risk of alienating benefactors and families similar to mine.
I am hardly naive to the economics involved in maintaining an institution's athletic programs. This is a business where winning is everything and losing is unacceptable. It's simple dollars and sense. Even so, it doesn't lessen the gut-punch or the personal sting I feel knowing the university where my parents met (my father played baseball and basketball, my mother was a Maryland cheerleader) and all four of their children proudly followed suit will now watch as Terrapin teams compete against teams we have absolutely no real emotional connection to.
Maryland's departure from the ACC is of its own accord. Thanks in recent years to a horribly mismanaged athletic department who was deep in debt. Unable to dig itself out, even after slashing various Olympic sports programs, the school began quietly looking at ways to flip the script. Enter the Big Ten, waving a very lucrative carrot. From their Midwest headquarters, the Big Ten rode in like Prince Charming, scooping up the university like a damsel in distress and proudly planting their flag in the Washington/Baltimore metro area. Terrapin faithful were left shocked, bewildered and devastated on that chilly November day in 2012.
Gone are the rivalries, traditions, rituals that have spanned decades. No longer -- unless by some scheduling miracle -- will the likes of Duke, UNC, NC State and UVA enter the doors of the Comcast Center, race out of the tunnel at Byrd Stadium or score a goal at Ludwig Field. Anyone who knows the bitter blood that exists between Maryland and these ACC rivals, or has similar rivalries within their own conference, can understand.
For those who valiantly ignored what took place more than two and a half years ago, they must now come to terms with the reality of letting go. For someone like me, it's just not that easy.
How do I take almost 50 years of passion, vitriol, angst and emotion I've harbored for teams in the ACC and instantaneously feel the same for teams in the Big Ten?
They say there are only two true emotions in life -- love and hate -- and everything else is a mere byproduct. Since, I love my school and all their sports teams, I guess by next fall I'll have learned to hate the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, etc. -- even though it hardly feels right. GO TERPS!!!
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