Terps are blowing their chance to feed football-starved city

Bill Tanton

November 02, 1993|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- This is a terrible time, in view of the circumstances, to start a University of Maryland football ticket sales campaign.

The terrible circumstances are these:

Maryland has one of the worst NCAA Division I-A teams in the country. The Terps are 1-7, having beaten only Duke -- whose coach, Barry Wilson, resigned yesterday in frustration. Maryland has been shut out in two of its last three games.

Florida State, which plays here Saturday, is the No. 1 team in the country. The Seminoles are 8-0. They have outscored opponents 350-38.

"Florida State deserves to be No. 1," Maryland coach Mark Duffner said yesterday. "You can put on any tape. They've dominated every game."

A member of the Byrd Stadium maintenance staff was more graphic in his analysis of what might happen here Saturday. "People been kidding me," he said. "They keep telling me I'm going to need a third digit on the scoreboard for the visitors' score."

That's not as funny as it might seem. Last year Florida State beat Maryland, 69-21. The discrepancy between the teams is greater this year. FSU is a 42-point favorite.

Despite all that, Maryland ought to be devising a plan to win over the fans in Baltimore once and for all.

For the past 10 years, since pro football abandoned Baltimore, the people at the University of Maryland have had a marvelous window of opportunity.

By now, they should own Baltimore. They don't. Frankly, they've blown it. So far. OK, OK -- I know Maryland markets its athletic teams here. It just doesn't do a good enough job of it.

After those Mayflower vans hit the highway for Indianapolis a decade ago, Maryland should have launched an aggressive campaign to fill Baltimore's football void.

By now -- this wouldn't have happened overnight, of course -- Maryland should have a powerful presence here. It doesn't. Too many Baltimoreans still perceive Maryland as a Washington school.

When Dick Dull was athletic director at Maryland in the '80s he did more than pay lip service to Baltimore, where he was once a member of the police force. He brought Terps football to Memorial Stadium for the first time in 25 years.

Maryland played Clemson here in 1984, Miami in '85, Penn State in '87 and '89. Clemson played Maryland here in '90, Penn State in '91.

Then Maryland decided to play all its home games at College Park. There was reason for that. Byrd Stadium has been renovated to the tune of $20 million. Still, Maryland's departure left a sour taste with some here.

Today there's every reason for Baltimore people to travel in great numbers to Byrd. The stadium, though smallish with a capacity of 45,000, is modern and attractive. The collegiate atmosphere is more fun than the pros'. And Byrd Stadium is situated only 32 miles from Camden Yards. In many states, fans drive hundreds of miles to see the ol' state U. play football.

Maryland's home crowds this autumn -- 35,015 for Virginia, 42,008 for West Virginia, 42,008 for Penn State and 31,487 for homecoming with Duke -- have been good. There are 3,000 tickets remaining for Florida State.

Hey, the team should do as well as the ticket department.

"We're ahead of budget in football ticket revenue," said Terps athletic director Andy Geiger.

You can't blame Geiger for Maryland's failure to capture Baltimore's heart and soul. He has only been here three years. The associate A.D. he hired, Jeff Gray, a Californian, has been here only two.

For 10 years Baltimore has been a football wasteland. You can't buy Redskins tickets here, and not enough people have bothered with Maryland.

For all this time, the assumption has been that someday we would get back in the NFL -- and we still might. In the coming weeks, we'll know if we're to be included in this expansion.

If Baltimore is snubbed by the NFL, as most believe it will be, Maryland should roll up its sleeves and begin to work this market hard.

If this city does get an NFL franchise this time, Baltimore will again be a pro football town. Even so, Maryland will want to play one game a year in the 70,000-seat football-only stadium to be built at Camden Yards.

The current Terps varsity is not much of an enticement, but things will get better. I still believe in Mark Duffner.

If Baltimore gets the back of the NFL's hand, people here may find in a year or two that Byrd Stadium is the place to be. Let's wait until after Saturday's carnage to get serious about that, though.

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