- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

While the University of Maryland mulls cutting eight sports, the men’s basketball team is hooping it up in Puerto Rico at a tip-off tournament. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Not necessarily, but it’s a good place to start. Look, we all know men’s basketball makes millions of dollars for the athletic program — and needs to be kept strong. If that means flying to some island in the Caribbean, so that recruits will think Maryland is a really cool place to go, I’m certainly not going to say the Terps shouldn’t. It’s just the way things are in big-time college sports.

What I do wonder about is the traveling some of Maryland’s other teams do — teams that aren’t revenue producing, some of whom are on the chopping block. Not to single anybody out, because that’s not the point of this, but did the men’s tennis team really need to make two trips to Texas in September, the first to Midland, the second to Waco? I mean, they couldn’t find a match any closer?

And what about women’s water polo, another program that might get the ax? Seven matches in California this coming season (not counting the NCAAs in San Diego)? Really?

I guess what I’m asking is: When it comes to college athletics, is it about the sport or is it about the spectacle? Is it about the competition or is it about flying on an airplane? Because one place any team — or any business — can save money is on travel; and a school like Maryland, situated where it is, should be able to economize in this area as well as just about anybody.

Let’s put together a list of all the Division I schools that are within a reasonable bus ride of College Park, schools Maryland could easily schedule if it wanted to (without suffering greatly — if at all — from a competitive standpoint):

Georgetown, George Washington, Navy, American, Howard.

Virginia, Richmond, VCU, William and Mary, Old Dominion, Norfolk State, Hampton.

Towson, Loyola of Baltimore, Coppin State, Morgan State.

Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Penn, Drexel, Delaware, Delaware State, Mount Saint Mary’s.

That’s 25 schools by my count, and I may have left a few out. You’ll also notice I haven’t even ventured into metro New York/New Jersey … or included Virginia Tech, Bucknell/Lehigh/Lafayette or any of the Pittsburgh schools (which are hardly on the other side of the world).

Maryland schedules some of these schools; others it doesn’t. There are limits, after all, to the number of games you can play, and many of the Terps’ are against their ACC brethren. But that just raises another question: In the current economic climate, does across-the-board competition in conferences make sense any more, or should it just be confined to certain sports — football, basketball and perhaps a few others (depending on the conference)?

Would that be a way to keep these endangered programs going? Release them from the obligation of having to play an ACC schedule and let them fend for themselves, opposition-wise? I’m just asking.

Some will say: What’s the point of having a conference then? And my reply is: The whole idea of a conference these days is in a constant state of flux. Members come, members go. TCU — TCU! — joins the Big East and then leaves without ever playing a game. What is conference membership anymore, other than a temporary marriage of convenience? (See Kim Kardashian.)

And let me take it one step further. If all the ACC consisted of was football and men’s/women’s basketball —- nothing else — would it be the end of the world? Would it be the end of the world if other Terps teams confined themselves to playing schools in reasonably close proximity and simply acknowledged that they’re not self-sustaining?? That the object isn’t to go to Texas for a tennis match; the object is to exist, to compete, to be an athlete?

A radical notion, admittedly, especially since we’re talking about one of the “power” conferences, a group of universities that likes to think of itself as a gated community. But when Maryland is considering ditching part of its athletic program, it loses any sense of specialness it might have had. It becomes just like everybody else — like all those schools surrounding it, the schools it sometimes plays, but only if they’ll come to College Park.

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