- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

There is little doubt Maryland is eager to receive its first look against outside competition when it welcomes Indiana (Pa.) to Comcast Center on Tuesday for an exhibition game.

Fans will be there (along with their money). So too will media members. Yet it’s a glimpse fewer schools provide thanks to the ascent of the popularity of closed scrimmages.

The Terrapins dabble in both, and a handful of schools, such as Duke, still play a pair of traditional exhibitions - now against lower-division schools rather than traveling all-star teams. Others, such as Virginia Tech, have embraced a scrimmage-only outlook in the preseason.

“It doesn’t have the same limitations as an exhibition game,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. “You play an exhibition game, and you never really know who you’re playing. You can play three guys who have Seth Greenberg’s hairline and two guys that played 20 years ago in America and are just hanging on to a paycheck. If you’re scrimmaging Georgetown, you know what you’re getting.”

The setup is simple. According to NCAA rules, no fans are permitted in the building for scrimmages. Same goes for reporters and recruits, and schools cannot send out releases on the results.

Scrimmages take away a moneymaking opportunity. But down a rung on the college basketball food chain - such as at Drexel, which plays in the 2,532-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center - there isn’t the same financial incentive to play an exhibition.

“Nobody’s going to come watch an exhibition game in the DAC,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “Be realistic. When I was at UMass and you were getting 8 to 10,000 people, I can see exhibition games. When you’re in the DAC, you’re getting 500 people to come see a game that’s going to be 105-100 and no defense and you’re ticked off at your kids.”

There’s also a preparation facet involved. Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio, whose team plays one scrimmage and one exhibition, sets up an itinerary before a scrimmage. Ten minutes could be devoted to facing man defenses. Another 10 minutes could be allocated to using role players. There also could be shorter periods for working on specialty situations, such as inbound passes.

Still, exhibitions retain some merit and not merely as a moneymaker. Maryland has gone with a split in recent years, scrimmaging Temple (the Owls come to College Park this season) in addition to a date with a school from a lower division.

“It’s good because you know that D-II team you play, they’re going to be fired up,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “They’re going to come after you. You might win by a lot eventually, but you know those first 10 minutes, they’re going to play against you.”

Exhibitions maintain relevant for other reasons. Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said fan demand still exists to watch the Monarchs in the preseason. But just as important, it provides a stage for players before they actually have to perform.

The option of an audience rather than an empty gym is why American coach Jeff Jones scheduled two exhibitions this season after the Eagles lost seven of their top nine scorers and added seven freshmen.

Some coaches view such a dress rehearsal as a useful exercise. Others prefer greater control over their preseason situations.

“Exhibitions today don’t have a value,” Greenberg said. “It’s 40 minutes, it’s done and you really don’t know what you’re getting in that exhibition team. … It’s not as good a teaching tool because it doesn’t give you the type of resistance you’ll face in a first opponent.”

Then again, too much resistance is a concern as well, particularly for short-term perception. Three years ago, Maryland eked out a 79-78 defeat of California (Pa.) to provoke some fan consternation at the shaky play. But a little more than four months later, Maryland was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, no one ever hears about lousy scrimmage performances, lending that option another sliver of value.

“If you’re playing a Division II school, even though it’s an exhibition game, you’d better win that game because you get killed if you don’t,” Williams said. “This way, if you don’t play well, who cares? It might be better for you because you might be willing to work at things that might cost you that particular 10-minute period, but you really gained a lot by doing it that way.”

Even if outsiders can never witness the progress.

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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