- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

This recruiting scandal in College Park might look bad, but trust me it's small potatoes compared to what could have happened to the Maryland football program last season. That's right, folks, the Terrapins could have gotten in much bigger trouble with the NCAA than they're in right now. Gather 'round and I'll fill you in on the details, the details of one of the great, untold stories of 2002.
It all began when Scott McBrien, Maryland's starting quarterback, got a call at school one day from his mom.
"You'll never guess who's moving in next door," she said.
"Who's that, ma?"
"Steve Francis."
"Steve Francis?"
Steve Francis. The NBA star and Terps basketball legend was the McBriens' new neighbor for a while, at least. He'd taken up temporary residence in a Rockville townhouse while waiting for work to be completed on much more palatial digs.
Like a lot of professional athletes, Francis owns enough cars to fill a parking garage. And after he got to know McBrien, he offered him the use of one.
"I only saw two of them," Scott says, "a Cadillac Escalade and a '65 something or other a classic car he'd fixed up, a convertible. But his brother said more cars were on the way."
It was an absolutely innocent gesture, a simple act of Terp brotherhood. Here, kid, I've got more cars than I know what to do with. Why don't you drive one of 'em?
As far as the NCAA is concerned, though, there are no absolutely innocent gestures. This one happens to fall under the category of "improper benefits." Because he attended Maryland, Francis is considered a representative of the university's athletic interests, and people like that can't be loaning cars to people like McBrien or even a buying them a soda.
Fortunately for the Terps, their quarterback knew this, knew that borrowing Francis' wheels was a no-no. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" was his immediate reaction. Then he patiently explained to Steve some of the finer points of NCAA law.
"He understood right away why we couldn't do that," McBrien says. "Lots of players in that situation would have taken the car, but I've been taught well."
Indeed he has. And good thing, too. Imagine the fallout if Scott had been spotted driving a $50,000 Escalade or some other luxury vehicle during Maryland's 10-3 season last fall. He could have been suspended. The team might have had to forfeit victories. The seven-game winning streak, the 30-3 trouncing of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl all of it could have been wiped out.
It wasn't, of course. And McBrien went on to throw for 2,497 yards and account for 22 touchdowns (15 throwing, seven running). But it makes you realize how difficult it is for a football coach to keep everybody assistants, players, boosters on the straight and narrow. I mean, of all the places Steve Francis could have lived, what are the odds he would have moved right next door to Scott McBrien?
Answer: About as long as the odds the Terps would win 21 games in Ralph Friedgen's first two years multiplied by, maybe, 100.
Disaster was averted, though, and recruiting troubles aside everything's just Peach-y with Maryland football these days. Spring practice comes so early (Feb.23) this year, in fact, that the players are still on a high from the victory over Tennessee.
"It feels like we just played that game," McBrien says. "It's a great feeling to take into spring ball. It's also totally different from the feeling last year [after Florida trampled the Terps in the Orange Bowl]. The whole team is upbeat."
Here's something else that's totally different: McBrien is the unquestioned starter now so much so that Chris Kelley, his primary competition last season, is talking about switching to defense. Scott has never gone into the offseason as the No.1 quarterback before; he's always had to prove a 6-foot, 180-pounder was up to the task.
"At West Virginia [where he spent his first two years], they changed offensive coordinators every year," he says. "This is the first time I've really had a chance to get comfortable with an offense. I got some experience last season, and now I just want to learn this offense like the back of my hand, know where everybody is at all times and where to go with the football on every play."
If he accomplishes that, the Terps could well win 10 games again. But his biggest accomplishment might still be when he told a well-meaning alum: "Thanks, but no thanks."

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