FOOTBALL IS STILL the king of college sports, but will it be at the University of Maryland?
Unless litigation stops the University of Miami and Virginia Tech from joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2004-05 school year, all of this incessant whining about the ACC lacking morality and integrity will come to an end. Finally.
When has big-time college sports ever been concerned about morals? For decades, college coaches wouldn't recruit athletes based on skin color. Alabama recently fired its football coach and Georgia its men's basketball coach for unethical behavior. Allegations about improper recruiting and athletes not attending classes appear in daily papers as often as box scores.
So what the ACC did to lure Miami and Virginia Tech away was nothing more than the animals eating their own, a corporate takeover where two prominent football powers will put more money in the pockets of ACC schools.
But locally, you have to wonder if Maryland's football program will make a similar investment and get enough support to keep pace with the Hurricanes and the Hokies as well as traditional power Florida State and the rising programs at Virginia and North Carolina State.
"I think it's great for the ACC as a whole," said Mike Jarmolowich, a stockbroker and former Maryland linebacker in the early 1990s. "I don't know if there is going to be a much better conference. For Maryland, the biggest obstacle was always Florida State. Now there are two other hurdles called Miami and Virginia Tech."
Scott Whittier, a former teammate of Jarmolowich's, said: "If this happens, College Park is about to blow up. You've got to find the players and make commitments. Maryland fans have always been lukewarm, but hopefully this will bring in some of the fans who have been sitting on the fence."
Lukewarm is putting it nicely. Area fans weren't filling Byrd Stadium consistently even when the Terps were turning out quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Stan Gelbaugh and Frank Reich when Bobby Ross was coach.
Ever since Ralph Friedgen came to coach at Maryland two years ago, he has been campaigning for larger attendance and financial contributions. He wants to build an academic center for players with lab offices, tutoring rooms and a 160-seat auditorium for team meetings, lectures and clinics.
He wants an indoor practice facility and more leniency from the administration to get in players with borderline grades and SAT scores.
At some time, Maryland is going to either make these moves, or it won't be able to stay on the playing fields with the conference's new big boys. Raising money has been a problem at Maryland, and it was a problem for former athletic directors Lew Perkins and Andy Geiger.
Some wonder why current AD Debbie Yow stays at Maryland since it's so difficult to raise money.
"We didn't have a clue until Ralph got here," Whittier said. "As long as we have Ralph in place, we can get it done. As a person involved in commercial real estate and banking, I would often talk to people who would say they would come to College Park if they played an Auburn, an Alabama or a Miami.
"I'm not sure we'll get new fans, but I believe you'll see those guys on the fence coming in," he said. "Because now we have a Miami and we have a Virginia Tech."
There isn't much to complain about Maryland during the past two years. Season-ticket sales have climbed from 10,000 two years ago to 22,000, with an immediate goal of 30,000.
Before Friedgen, the Terps' last bowl appearance was in 1990. With Friedgen, the Terps are 21-5 with a 56-23 loss to Florida in the Orange Bowl 18 months ago, and a 30-3 blowout of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve.
But Maryland hasn't arrived yet.
The Terps lack depth and speed. They haven't signed a blue-chip quarterback prospect, one you can build a team around. All of these problems will show up on Saturday afternoons in the fall when Maryland has to play Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Florida State and N.C. State.
Unless, Friedgen gets additional ammunition to recruit. Right now, they aren't ready.
"For years, Maryland lost a lot of players to Virginia Tech, and Virginia Tech lost a lot of players to Maryland," Jarmolowich said. "It's a natural rivalry. Now with this overall talent in the league, people are going to want to play in the ACC, and we're going to have to get our share."
Well, that's what the ACC wanted.
It wanted to become a super conference on par with the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference. League officials still have to petition the NCAA to lower the 12-team requirement for a football conference championship to 11, and eventually they'll get the game, even if it has to add another team. Too much money involved.
Prestige and money will also force the league to discontinue its storied history of having its basketball teams play each other twice a year during the regular season.
That's what this is all about, money, right?
Miami's football program reportedly made a $5.8 million profit in 2001-02, and the Hurricanes reportedly could make $6.2 million overall in each of their first two seasons in the ACC. In the third season, Miami could make more than $9 million.
It has been interesting to note that as soon as the Miami announced it was going to the ACC, Big East officials called Conference USA officials to let them know they might be interested in Louisville. They prefer flirting publicly as opposed to privately.
Maryland, though, will do some flirting with a steady diet of bigger and better competition. The concern is if it's flirting with success or mediocrity.