I recall a long time ago (it seemed like a long time ago, but let’s call it 2008-ish) that I would tell any Maryland basketball fan who would call my show to complain about Gary Williams’ – a. Lack of recruiting b. Inability to get past the Sweet 16 or c. Something else – that someday, they would be looking back on Gary’s days as “the glory years.”
Well, here we are, with another dud of a Terps team this year, hoping for a winning lottery ticket in their final ACC Tournament to somehow sneak into the Field of 64.
And nobody’s buying it. Least of all, the fan base. The Washington Post chronicles the unfortunate but undeniable truth about the program as it bids so long to the ACC after 61 years.
Such scenes have become rare over the past four years in College Park, where students once regularly camped out to watch a Maryland basketball program that reached the Final Four in 2001, won the national championship in 2002 and made the NCAA tournament in most of the other years under legendary coach Gary Williams. Now, barring a run to the ACC tournament title this week, the Terrapins will miss college basketball’s marquee event for a fourth straight season, and this year’s seniors will become the first class to graduate without witnessing an NCAA tournament appearance in 21 years.
“The program has always been a part of March Madness,” said Scott Block, a senior from Howard County who has been close friends with Tommins since freshman year. “At least, it was.”
The program’s recent stasis has coincided with a sharp decline in overall attendance for a financially troubled athletic department that is banking on basketball ticket receipts to carry it through choppy monetary waters. Maryland is averaging 12,198 fans per game this season, down 32 percent since the 2007-08 season, when the Terrapins maxed out Comcast Center’s capacity with 17,950 packing the arena on a nightly basis. The school also says student attendance has dropped by roughly 375 over the past year.
My opinion on new coach Mark Turgeon is the same as it was when they hired him. He’s good enough, I suppose. But the “program” that many fans assumed could continue in the Post Gary Era, retired WITH Gary. The pulsing blood and literal sweat of that legendary coach WAS the program in the modern 3-point era.
Oh yeah, I know. Lefty. But what I tried to argue back then (and was angrily shouted down by many Terp fans) is that despite the Lefty Era and the Gary Era, Maryland basketball wasn’t anywhere near the caliber of the Four Horsemen of college hoops royalty: Duke, Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas.
They program wasn’t even Indiana, UConn, Michigan State, or Syracuse.
Nor probably Florida, Louisville, UCLA or Arizona.
It’s a good program, with a very nice DVD-ready history. But in a lot of ways, it’s also Georgia Tech North. A program that has got to be hot at the moment, for fans to care, or even show up.