WESTMINSTER -- It's glasnost with a football helmet.
In March, Western Maryland will become the first American college football team to play a game in the Soviet Union. Kent Dunston of International Sports Connection, the group that is organizing the trip, said yesterday it was "a done deal."
Western Maryland athletic director J. Richard Carpenter said that 50 deposits of $300 have been paid by members of the Green Terrors football team and coaching staff to ensure the trip.
"A lot of these sorts of opportunities come across a coach's desk," Carpenter said. "We thought this one was particularly appealing, because it was a chance to go into the Soviet Union. Just the politics of the fall of communism and so forth, we thought it would be a tremendous opportunity for our student-athletes."
Dunston said the only way the trip could fall through now, other than by Western Maryland's not making the required payments, is if the political climate in the Soviet Union changes -- again.
The Aug. 19 coup came two weeks into Western Maryland's planning for the trip.
"If something hadn't politically taken care of itself, we would have gone away from the idea totally," Carpenter said. "Once order was restored, though, we started planning again."
The cost for each member of the official party, which includes players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers and others, is $1,795. The price for those in a separate booster group is $1,849. The money is coming from the players and their families, with some help from fund raising by a parents organization.
The Green Terrors will be away for a week during Western Maryland's spring break. The team will take tours of such Soviet landmarks as Red Square, Moscow State University and the Kremlin.
"I'm looking forward to seeing history in the making," said Western Maryland quarterback Paul McCord, a history major. "I'm anxious to see the new government developing. But, right now, you never know if that government will still be there when we get there."
The game is scheduled for March 17. Western Maryland probably will be playing the Moscow Bears, although Dunston said there is a chance the Green Terrors could be playing a Soviet all-star team.
Last July, Dunston arranged a trip that brought the Moscow Bears to the United States to play five games against teams in a now-defunct minor football league. He said Soviet football is about on the level of good high school football in the United States.
"But you can't put these guys against a high school team, because they are monster-sized," Dunston said. "They're big enough and strong enough to play professionally, but their skills aren't there."
Dunston stressed the Western Maryland trip should not be viewed as an international showdown.
"To promote this as a real athletic competition is not fair," Dunston said. "Western Maryland does not want to embarrass the Russians by rolling up a triple-digit score, and we want the Russians to feel they are progressing."
To illustrate the state of football in the Soviet Union, Dunston tells a story of a game he watched a Soviet team play in France recently.
"I saw the Russian quarterback and he was throwing like a shot-putter," Dunston said. "Then they said 'Da, he is a shot-putter.' So I said, 'Bring me a javelin thrower. That's how you throw a football.' "
Western Maryland coach Dale Sprague said he isn't sure how he will keep the game close, but he assures that "every kid that goes on the trip will play.
"We're going over there as much to teach and show them the intricacies of football as we are to play a game," Sprague said.