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Where does the ACC shuffle leave the Terps?

July 01, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

The earth moved in the sporting world on Monday.

The University of Miami's decision to leave the Big East and join the Atlantic Coast Conference sent tremors that were felt across the college football landscape.

It was more than just a football powerhouse filing a change of address card. It strengthened the perceived prestige, marketability and financial draw of one league while putting a serious dent in the other. It also signifies a new era in college football where super conferences could turn so-called "mid-major" schools into dinosaurs.

Much of politics and legal work - two factors that seem to have oh-too-much bearing in sports nowadays - that go with the move still need to be wrestled. And while they go two-out-of-three falls to get the new ACC running, there is one purely selfish question on the local front:

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How does all this wrangling, wheeling and dealing affect the University of Maryland?

Let's look at this in a big-picture view. This is more of a fan's view away from the legalese concerning the high financial rewards and business perks that allegedly go with the chance to hold a league championship football game, a la the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12.

The plan is to divide the ACC into two divisions to prevent 10 conference matchups in an 11- to 13-game schedule.

If the ACC elects to divide itself geographically, the boundary falls right along the yellow dotted passing line of famed Tobacco Road.

At first glance, Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia and new member Virginia Tech join Maryland in a northern division and North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State join the Hurricanes on the beaches of Miami.

That will never happen. The ACC didn't invite Miami to be the belle of its ball game just to be put in the same division as Florida State to fight for one of two berths in the biggest game of the year.

Nirvana would be Florida State vs. Miami playing for all the ACC cat's eyes. Both schools are usually in the top five nationally in football, which usually translates to an invitation to the Bowl Championship Series. The ACC could control two of the six bids annually.

So, the ACC probably will employ the NFL's main rule of divisions: Don't let easy access and close proximity get in the way of alignment. (Remember Washington, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Arizona in the NFC East?)

So figure that Florida State will be in the Northern Division ... after all, the Seminoles make their home in northern Florida. A move like that would be the excuse to put Duke back in the Southern Division, keeping the Blue Devils' alliance with North Carolina and North Carolina State intact.

On the competition side, giving Florida State such preferential treatment could be considered a slap at Maryland and its football resurgence under Ralph Friedgen.

Friedgen has done an amazing job getting the Terrapins program to turn the corner faster than most turtles move. Friedgen's organization runs the program on a timeline, focusing on his team improving every week to the end. It has been the trademark of his early success.

On the surface, yearly games with Virginia (a rival), Virginia Tech (a national power) and Wake Forest (an up-and-coming program) could be interesting. Sprinkle in three of the Southern Division teams and you have a pretty strong conference schedule.

But the one thing the Terps have failed to do, though, is figure out a way to beat Florida State. Until Maryland can come up with a Seminole solution, the Terps might have to settle to be just a fan of the championship game.

Then again, you have to wonder if the ACC considered what will happen to Florida State once Bobby Bowden decides to retire. Most programs suffer dramatic dropoffs after legendary coaches leave. (Didn't North Carolina in the post-Dean Smith era teach them anything?)

Down the road, that big conference championship game could lose its luster. It's been rare that the traditional big media draws have actually met in the SEC final, especially since Alabama has fallen on hard times.

The basketball picture will have to be saved for another time. For now, Maryland won't suffer because its one of the ACC's - and the nation's - strongest teams.

But if the league designs a division with Duke and North Carolina in the south, how would that affect the Terps' schedule? Would one yearly game against the perennial big draws of the conference - meaning a trip to College Park every other year - be enough to keep fans rabid?

I'm pretty sure the ACC's presidents have considered some of the scenarios in this big picture of speculation. They couldn't just be looking at the possible rewards without considering the possible ramifications of the member schools, could they?

Hopefully, the ACC didn't let details fall through the cracks while making the earth move.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer at The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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