Testudo, Say It A’int So!
Lenny. Lefty. Dixon. Gary. I’ve had the privilege of meeting two of them, Lefty and Gary. Maryland legends for different reasons - one put the Terps and Cole Field House on the map. One put a crystal basketball in the lobby of Comcast Center. Both, I would imagine, will take a moment today to savor so many ACC memories.
My ACC memories started at 6 years old watching MJ make magic on the court at UNC. I remember my 8 year old enthusiasm taking in my first Terps game with my dad against UVA. Lenny and Lefty’s last game. Cole was electric! I remember taking my son, 6 at the time, to his first game two years ago against Clemson. I remember four epic games against Duke in 2001. I remember classic battles between Dean and Lefty. I would take pride in ACC basketball when my friends would champion the legacy of the Big Ten and Big East. Today, I’m disgusted. Within the context of basketball, the thought of a Big Ten logo in the red paint on the Comcast Center floor is gut wrenching.
As I’ve watched the fire sale of proud institutions to whatever conference makes the least sense and the most money, I’ve been reassured and proud that the Terps, a founding member of the ACC, were forever entrenched in their one and only conference. As other conferences stood on the street corner twirling and throwing signs like a furniture store going out of business, I’ve watched in guilty fascination as Boise St. goes to the Big East. As Nebraska turns its back on a historic rivalry with Oklahoma for a new rivalry with…Minnesota??? As Georgetown and UConn watch bitter rival Syracuse defect to the ACC. Blasphemy!
Blasphemy implies sacred. And as we’ve known for a generation now…nothing is sacred. After all, what is the underlying irresistible draw of college athletics? Is it how many players get drafted in the first round? Is it which network gets to show which team? Is it any stat that coaches and players put up on the ticker at the bottom of the screen? No, no and no. Rivalries! Rivalries are college athletics. “Sacred” rivalries like Duke/Carolina, Alabama/LSU, Michigan/Ohio State. But all of those rivalries are in the same conference, you say? Sure they are….but for how long? Nothing is off-limits anymore.
History will look back at this non-sense and judge today’s college Presidents…men and women who, one day, will gladly trade their legacy for that of beta-max or New Coke. History will see this as the turning point, when college athletics lifted the veil of innocence behind which they had hid for so long. Even if we all knew it anyway, we didn’t want it thrown in our faces. If you ever had the misfortune of walking by your parents’ bedroom door closed and locked with music in the background, you knew what was happening on the other side of it, but seeing it in all of its glory it is whole different matter! Well, now that my beloved Terps have fallen victim to this charade, I’ve flung the door wide open and now I’m ready to hide in the closet and cry at horror I’ve seen. Marvin Gaye will never sound quite the same!
Congratulations college presidents, athletic directors, trustees, regents! The cash machines you tout as institutions of higher learning are paving the way for a whole new generation of athlete, free from the irritation of intellectual growth. Not chained by the lessons that help to make strong men and women leaders for the next crop of student-**cough**-athletes (I’m sorry…had some trouble getting that out). Despite lip service to the contrary that would make Mick Jagger jealous, this is the message you send. We get it.
The hypocrisy running unchecked in college sports today will continue to spiral downward. Say hello to the infancy of an NCAA in which players are not only paid, but free to endorse products, bend rules and rent themselves out to any hanger-on they want to. You know…the NCAA we have now, but only it will be OK and accepted as the norm. I don’t pretend that Maryland’s move is the one that tips the balance. That ship sailed long ago. It’s the one that’s tipped my balance.
Tomorrow, I may have calmed down. Tomorrow, maybe I won’t share today’s view that the NCAA will soon be a putrid cesspool of semi-pro divas caring nothing for the lore and history of their schools and their bitter rivals, but only about what color Bentley to get during their freshman year after that pesky Sports Information class is over. Maybe… But it’s still today. And today, I look into my crystal basketball and I see Lenny, Lefty, Dixon and Gary shed a tear at the stink of it all.
But! I’m still a Terps fan! So, Big Ten here we come! Consider yourselves warned….Fear the Turtle!!!!!!!