OK, let’s quickly run down the upside of the University of Maryland’s sudden move to the Big Ten:
—- Road trip to Columbus!
—- Midwest farmers’ daughters really make you feel all right.
—- Cold hard cash.
Yes, it’s all about the money. So let me congratulate my misguided alma mater for being the latest winning contestant on “The Price Is Right.”
“The University of Maryland, come on down!!!”
Man, they ran to the bank in a hurry with that first Big Ten check.
Sure, I understand that’s it’s a loot-first- ask-questions-later culture. But Maryland was in such a rush out the door, it didn’t even bother to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference a Dear John letter.
This is how it went down:
A feckless Wallace D. Loh, university president, took an offer he couldn’t refuse to the feckless university board of regents, which, after hearing Big Ten backing from feckless former men’s basketball coach Gary Williams and the feckless student government body, then deliberated for, oh, 10 or 15 minutes before voting in favor of the proposal.
(Williams – who graduated 8 percent of his players from 1999 to 2003 because, well, that wasn’t his charge as an educator on campus – is a $400,000-a-year university athletic department employee; the chances he would publicly endorse this move, brought to him by the president and the athletic director, were 100 – no, maybe 105 – percent. And the student government there has about as much do with governing as college basketball has to do with college.)
This was a momentous decision, made in secret – almost certainly breaking state law, in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act – without any public discussion. Spiritually, it was a reprise of the Mayflower moving vans leaving Baltimore for Indianapolis in the dead of night in March 1984, only this time Loh was driving the big rigs.
Now, nobody is questioning the financial wisdom of Maryland’s move – though it comes with a $50 million exit fee it now owes the ACC – and everybody is applauding the likely restoration of several non-revenue sports cut from the budget a year ago.
But sitting in my off-campus ivory tower, I must ask the same question I’ve asked before:
Is it possible for a great university not to have Division I athletics? Actually, I would argue it’s preferable for a great university not to have Division I athletics.
Simply put, it makes sense to say no to intercollegiate athletics and yes to intramurals. If we’re trying to follow the Greeks’ sound-mind- and-body ideal, why should it just apply to a handful of elite bodies?
Remarkably, Spelman College in Atlanta just made this very decision, announcing its withdrawal from Division III intercollegiate athletics. “Hoping to replace organized sports for the few with fitness for all,” as the New York Times put it, Spelman determined it made little sense to spend $1 million annually on 80 student-athletes when it could redirect time and money to the physical welfare of the entire 2,100-student body.
I realize my College Park brethren – who refuse to rise and revolt against the athletic industrial complex that rules the day – will reject this option. So I have a more pragmatic proposal that keeps Maryland in the ACC and solves the fiscal crisis:
Open a casino on campus!
(You don’t even have to recruit “student- gamblers” – they’re already there.)
Maryland voters just approved Las Vegas-style table-games gambling. Replace vending machines with slot machines and library tables with blackjack tables, and we’re talking a new weight room for the football team within 18 months!!!
At a minimum, I’d open a card room in the Student Union. Heck, the gent who just won the World Series of Poker Main Event, Greg Merson, briefly went to Maryland. So let’s break ground on the Greg Merson Poker Room – of course, first I’d make him come back to College Park and complete his degree.