- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2012


Seems like just yesterday Randy Edsall, Maryland’s imperious football coach, was imposing his will on Danny O’Brien and two other players to keep them from transferring to Vanderbilt, where former Terps assistant James Franklin has been gaining traction. Remember that sorry scene? Edsall made a vague, unsubstantiated reference to “things you feel might have taken place” between the various parties, then added, “We have that prerogative. [And] the players have the prerogative to appeal.” 

After a cascade of criticism, Edsall rediscovered his moral compass and released the three without restraints. Or maybe he just realized that, in the wake of a 2-10 first season — one in which he turned off many with his pompous and controlling ways — he couldn’t afford to let his approval rating drop any lower. In any case, Maryland eventually made the right decision, even if it was at a turtle’s pace. And wonder of wonders, none of the players wound up at Vandy; quarterback O’Brien went to Wisconsin, offensive tackle Max Garcia to Florida and linebacker Mario Rowson to Delaware.

I bring this up not to rip off old scabs but because the cleat is suddenly on the other foot. Now it’s Maryland that’s transferring — to the Big Ten. And the part of Edsall, the Big Bad Wolf, is being played by the Atlantic Coast Conference. Earlier this week, the ACC filed suit in North Carolina to make sure the Terps “fulfill [their] exit-fee obligation,” as commissioner John Swofford put it. This obligation was more than doubled in September, from $20 million to $50 million, to deter members from leaving the herd.

Swofford saying the other presidents wanted “to ensure the enforcement of this obligation” sounds a lot like Edsall saying he has the “prerogative” to block a player from transferring to a certain school. And Maryland president Wallace Loh saying the Terps’ buyout is still to be determined — “something that we will discuss in private with the ACC” — sounds a lot like Edsall saying the players “have the prerogative to appeal.”

Beautiful, just beautiful. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

Loh is of the opinion that because Maryland (along with Florida State) opposed the increase — on the grounds $50 million is too punitive — it might have a basis for negotiating the fee down, perhaps to the previous figure. And let’s face it, $50 million is excessive. Heck, that’s how much the Byrd Stadium expansion cost, the one that added all those luxury boxes and seats that have proved so hard to sell (one of the reasons the Terps opted for the Big Ten and its larger financial pie).

What we have here is another illustration of how ridiculously out of whack college sports is. Or, more to the point, what a warped perspective coaches and administrators have. Edsall had no problem denying — at first, anyway — O’Brien’s right to take his talents wherever he darn chose. NCAA bylaws, after all, were on his side. But Loh is perfectly willing to challenge the legality of the ACC’s exit fee, even though the conference is a democracy and the measure had the necessary votes.

Apples and oranges, you say? More like apples and applesauce. More like a university telling its athletes, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Unfortunately for Maryland, prenuptial agreements weren’t in fashion when the ACC was formed in 1953. Thus, there’s no provision for charter members being eligible for reduced-rate divorces. Indeed, no one back then could have envisioned the conference-swapping insanity that has swept across the nation. Everybody can see it now, though, and they’re scared. A $50 million buyout is just an extension of that fear.

The moral of the story is this: Sometimes circumstances change. When a new football coach is hired and a starting quarterback finds himself on the outs, it makes sense to let the QB transfer without caveats, regardless of what prerogatives the school might have. It’s a matter of fairness. By the same token, when a conference member of long standing has fallen on hard times and needs to switch allegiances to keep its athletic program going, it shouldn’t be forced to pay an onerous exit fee. This, too, is only fair.

Maryland grasps the second concept easily enough, but it took it a while to come around to the first — and it’s a lesser university for it. What’s going on now is karma. That’s one way of looking at it, at least.

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