The Washington Times - January 16, 2009, 11:19AM

There’s been remarkable stability at Maryland this decade in terms of its athletic director-football coach-men’s basketball coach triad. But I’m not so old as to not remember the last time one of those positions changed hands.

That was in November 2000, when Ron Vanderlinden was fired a day after wrapping up his second straight 5-6 season. In the stands at the end of his final game were (by my estimate, anyway) about 8,000 fans.

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That’s what you call apathy, and it’s far more dangerous than simply some contankerous customers. At least complaining fans are still passionate fans.

That’s why this extended mailbag item from longtime loyal reader Mike is troubling. This is someone who, if my e-mail box and IMs are any indication, watches pretty much every minute of Maryland football and basketball games. And while he might have the typical swings of a usual fan in the short-term, his long-term outlook is usually fairly steady:

Not sure which is worse, that the Terps can blow a 17-point lead in the second half, or that I just don’t care.  This team is hard to watch.  [A friend] says it should be Gary’s last year. I’m not so quick on the trap-door-in-the-floor button because I don’t know what these guys can do when its 5 guys who are like 6-6 and below battling for boards. I don’t know how Gary can make them get a rebound, or hit a shot in the final 12 minutes.

But with regards to Miami hitting all those threes, I mean, some of those, most rather, were just ridiculous.  The ball was dropping for them late, because some of those shots were just from way out and just chucked. It’s like playing a sharpshooting team in the tourney (what’s it like to play any type of team in the tourney?). Sometimes a team is just hot and everything will fall. Miami was decidedly not hot for most of the game. but those threes were just ridiculous. Some would call them garbage. I don’t know what you can do to stop a 30-footer from swishing.  

Anyway, like I said. I have trouble caring about this team. Which is sad. I’ve been watching Maryland basketball since I was in like seventh grade. The Joe Smith era. And it’s not like I don’t need a team to root for. I guess I have the Caps. But I sure would like a good Maryland basketball team. Am I just outgrowing college sports? I don’t think so. Or rather I hope not. But like with football, these teams are so up and down it just makes it hard to care when they put up a stinker. If I care too much, I’ll be sulking for the next three months. And that leads to the NFL Draft which, for obvious reasons, will cause more sulking. So I have to turn my Terp sensitivity control down a few notches for now.

Something tells me Mike (who, obviously, follows the Redskins as well) isn’t the only Maryland fan feeling this way.

Yes, the Terps are 12-4, but they’ve already lost two games this month they should have won (Morgan State and Miami), and those are setbacks that will haunt them for a while. Maryland lost six games it led at halftime last year, and has added two more to that total in 2008-09. That’s a script a lot of folks might want to tune out.

There’s little question basketball is still the primary sport to most Maryland fans, even after three NIT berths in four years and diminished external expectations entering this season. But would a fade this season foster the growth of some apathy about the program?

That’s purely speculative, and the best way to measure disinterest is attendance figures. Maryland isn’t selling out Comcast Center as much (twice in 11 games), but some of that is a function of economic conditions, some it it is a function of disinterest among more casual student fans and some if it is a function of further-flung students not attending games while they are home on semester break.

So that’s a lot of variables, and while I love me some stats, it isn’t easy to factor in all of those to things to measure what the true level of indifference really is at this stage. My guess is most Maryland fans are much closer to frustrated than uncaring at this stage, as well they should be.

Either way, this is a reasonable assertion: Apathy is a far more dangerous thing to any program’s health than NIT appearances. Even Maryland’s. So whether it actually develops or not, it is something that warrants monitoring going forward.

Patrick Stevens