Maryland is undergoing a coaching search, but they will be looking for far more than a coach. Given the sad state of the university’s finances, the lack of enthusiasm for this football team throughout the state, and the unsold luxury boxes on Byrd Stadium, it stands to reason that Athletic Director Kevin Anderson will be looking at creating a splash as much as hiring a quality coach. 8 wins a year can be enough to get a state to rally around its football team- as long as the team has something extra worth getting excited about. Mike Leach has seemed to be the obvious man to get those boxes sold and put Maryland football back on the state-wide (if not national) map. But in a state mad about its sports and utterly devoid of in-state competition, why does Maryland struggle so much to get attention in the first place?
It wasn’t until I left Maryland for Michigan that I realized that college sports didn’t have to play second fiddle to professional sports. Granted, I was in Ann Arbor, the Mecca of Midwest college football, but it made me wonder why Maryland, with its at least respectable football record of the last 10 years, didn’t garner much hype. Was it the lack of a true rivalry? That certainly hasn’t helped. Maryland has had secondary (or even tertiary) rivalries with Virginia, UNC, and Duke, the latter two in basketball and the first in football. But Virginia isn’t exactly a powerhouse itself on the gridiron, and pillow fights don’t generally get the fan base worked up.
Is it the location? Growing up I always thought of Maryland as a DC school, being placed rather oddly away from the center of the state, the heart of Maryland. That said, it was only ever an hour away from Baltimore, and shouldn’t serve as a reason for people not to be able to visit. As the flagships state institution, there should be some pull by their alumni to come visit at least on occasion.
Maybe the sport? Maryland has always been a basketball school first and foremost, and has no problem filling the Comcast Center for an ACC game. Football lacks the same tradition for the Terrapins, in much the same way typical football schools struggle to get interest in a mediocre basketball program. This would be fine, if basketball made nearly the revenue that a football program did. In 2009 Kentucky football, as average a football team as they come, still made more money than the vaunted Kentucky basketball program. There is a reason schools are putting their money into football- that’s where the return on investment is.
Anderson’s job is as much financial as it is about putting a winner on the field- though that can’t hurt the former goal. So why hasn’t Maryland football (or Maryland athletics as a whole) captured the hearts and minds of Marylanders? It’s not an easy question to answer. Kevin Anderson is hoping a little buzz- and some wins- will go a long way towards turning that around.