- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

Grumbling came in when tradition went out. The University of Maryland was uprooting itself from the Atlantic Coast Conference to join middle America in the Big Ten. No more conference games against Duke or North Carolina. It was off to “The Big House” for Saturday afternoon football and Assembly Hall to face the ghosts of Bobby Knight.

When the announcement came in November 2012, Maryland’s school president, Wallace D. Loh, said the move would stabilize the economics of the university’s athletic programs. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany braced for the blowback. Prominent Maryland fan Scott Van Pelt explained his dismay and understanding on his ESPN radio show.

Last Saturday, Terrapins closer Kevin Mooney squatted on Davenport Field in Charlottesville. Virginia Cavaliers raced past him. Maryland had lost in the bottom of the ninth inning to Virginia, ending its season a stone’s throw from the College World Series after a school-record 42 wins. Maryland had knocked off top-ranked UCLA to reach the NCAA tournament regional a few hours south of College Park before being stopped by the Cavaliers.

The loss left only this week’s NCAA Track and Field championships on the athletic calendar. Maryland’s first year of competing in the Big Ten is about to close. It was stockpiled with wins.

“The one thing that I talked about with our entire staff at the very beginning,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said, “was that we were going into the Big Ten and we expected to be competitive immediately. We had great success in the ACC and there was no reason why we thought we wouldn’t be successful in the Big Ten. It never crossed my mind that we would not be competitive.”

Winning, as always, is the fastest way to convert the aggrieved. The Terrapins provided a salve to the disgruntled from multiple sports by winning five regular-season conference titles. They also won two conference tournaments and were one of two Big Ten programs to qualify for the postseason in football (narrowly), men’s and women’s basketball and baseball.

As Loh mentioned, the money from the move would be crucial. Maryland needed a way to increase football revenue, the anchor of any profitable college athletics department, and says it did so in its first year in the Big Ten. According to the school, there was a 25 percent increase in football season-ticket sales. There was also a 13.8 percent increase in fan attendance, the largest increase in average attendance in the Big Ten. Visits from Ohio State and Michigan State brought the largest home crowds of the season. Few programs in the country travel better than Ohio State, so the attendance boost was not strictly about the home team.

Football managed to crawl above .500 at 7-6. But, most of the athletic success was distributed through the university’s Olympic sports and basketball teams.

The women’s basketball team, and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams reached the Final Four. Men’s soccer, women’s basketball, field hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse won regular-season conference titles. Men’s soccer and women’s basketball doubled up by winning their conference tournaments. Women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese was named conference coach of the year.

The resurrection of the men’s basketball program is the most prominent step of Maryland’s first athletic year in the Big Ten. Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon was named Big Ten coach of the Year. The talent of point guard Melo Trimble began wonder of what could be coming for the program after it was ousted in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Signing touted center Diamond Stone to go with Trimble and other capable returners, plus taking a risk in adding former Duke player Rasheed Sulaimon — the only player kicked out of Duke for non-academic reasons in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 years at the school — has Maryland re-anchored in talk about the country’s top teams.

Many mid-summer projections, draped in the caveats that are necessary when predicting what happens the following spring during the prior summer, say Maryland is the best men’s basketball team in the country. ESPN dispatched one such all-too-soon ranking for the coming season with Maryland on top, which stirred Van Pelt’s emotions.

“I’m dizzy,” he replied on Twitter.

Turgeon is more level-headed about it. When he was answering to the nickname “The Surgeon” as a slim point guard at Kansas from 1983-87, the Jayhawks made it to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll during the 1986 season. He couldn’t recall last week if coach Larry Brown had any advice about hype management, but did make it sound like Maryland will not be shrinking from the coming expectations.

“We were excited as players,” Turgeon said. “We embraced it. We plan on embracing it here, wherever we’re voted. We know we still have to prove it over the year. We’re excited about where our program is. I like my guys. My guys are working hard. We know we can continue to get better throughout the summer, then we’re just looking forward to the opportunities that we’re going to have next winter.”

His first year in the Big Ten helped round out a basketball-filled journey. Turgeon had been part of the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Missouri Valley Conference as a player or coach, but never the Big Ten. Last season brought trips to Bloomington, Indiana to face the Hoosiers. The Terrapins’ Big Ten debut was a double-overtime street fight in East Lansing, Michigan against the Spartans.

“I was excited about all of [the new venues] because the only one I had ever been to was Ohio State,” Turgeon said.

Early buzz for next season has already reached into the ticket office. According to the school, it has sold 1,500 new basketball season tickets since April. Stone signed his financial aid agreement with the university in the middle of the same month. Overall revenue for men’s basketball was also up seven percent.

Which sets up year two, when memories of ACC lore will be pushed back a little more. Michigan and Penn State visit College Park to play football in October. A home game against Wisconsin starts November. By then, Turgeon’s pressurized team will be taking its first steps and hopefully for Van Pelt, he has cleared his head enough to take it all in.

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