- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2008

The middle of December is usually a time of urgency in the Maryland athletic department, a stretch to mobilize fans to the football team’s bowl destination and upholding a reputation established this decade as a school that travels well.

Yet as the Terrapins (7-5) prepare for a Dec. 30 meeting with Nevada (7-5) in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, school officials admitted this week ticket sales are “in the mid-hundreds.”

Thanks to an array of factors, it’s a surprise to no one and a major concern to just as few.

Between the long distance, an economic recession and the Terps’ two-game skid to finish the season, there are no serious worries about the small number of Maryland fans traveling west later this month.

“I think when we accepted the invitation to go to Boise, both Maryland and the bowl had modest expectations about how many fans would be able to travel out to Boise for this game,” said Brian Ullmann, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director for external operations.

Maryland also wouldn’t be the first ACC school to bring a small contingent. Kevin McDonald, the Humanitarian Bowl’s executive director, said Clemson’s 3,500 tickets sold in 2001 was the largest from a league member.

This is the seventh time in eight years an ACC team will play in Boise, and numbers are typically modest. McDonald said Boston College brought about 1,500 fans in 2005, while Miami and Georgia Tech didn’t surpass 500 fans in either of the last two years.

But it doesn’t matter much from the bowl’s perspective since the game is designed more as a community event than an opportunity to lure tourists during a slow week, like many warm-weather bowls. McDonald said the bowl is “right on pace” to match last year’s attendance of 27,062 for Fresno State’s 40-28 defeat of Georgia Tech.

“As far as ticket sales from any ACC school, it doesn’t make or break the bowl,” McDonald said. “It’s tough right now. I think it’s a lot to think you’re going to pull a big crowd from the East Coast to the West Coast.”

The desire to keep schools closer to home is the major reason the ACC decided to end its relationship with the Humanitarian Bowl when the league’s contract with the game expires after this season. But the Boise bowl does have benefits, notably the absence of a ticket requirement for its participants.

Mike Finn, the ACC’s associate commissioner for football media relations, said a complement of 3,000 tickets (at $50 each) is included in the $1.1 million in traveling expenses allocated to the league member sent to the Humanitarian Bowl.

The absence of the pressure to hawk tickets is usually a relief to athletic departments, especially considering the distance. Since the Humanitarian Bowl is pegged at the end of the ACC’s pecking order, it typically selects a six- or seven-win team. Maryland wound up in that category with losses to Florida State and Boston College to close the season.

The pronounced economic downturn makes the tepid sales even more predictable, and Ullmann believes the Terps’ record of traveling in strong numbers to past games - including last year’s Emerald Bowl in San Francisco - will not be tarnished with a smaller showing this month.

“I think regardless of the sales for this, it does nothing to take away from Maryland’s earned reputation as a good traveling team,” Ullmann said. “This is a year people are going to kind of throw out. Everybody recognizes this is a very lean year. We’re proud of the Terp fans that are going, and we’d want as many as possible, but we very well understand the financial reality of traveling to Boise over the holidays.”

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