Maryland should play its biggest football game of the season away from Byrd at either M&T Bank Stadium or FedEx Field.
I've never been a proponent of playing college football in professional stadiums, no matter how state-of-the-art or expensive the venues are. It isn't that I'm an old-fashioned traditionalist or prejudiced against everything about the pro game; my opposition to collegiate teams making their homes in NFL stadiums is that most of them aren't generally able to fill them. For reference, check out the "dress like an empty seat" promotion days held by South Florida, Pitt and Temple in recent seasons at the "home" fields they share with the NFL Buccaneers, Steelers and Eagles, respectively. Without having dug up precise attendance numbers for those schools -- and understanding that the long-term quality of their on-field products hasn't been great -- they're examples of why I don't think permanent NFL-college field partnerships are a good thing, especially for fans looking for a raucous atmosphere. All in all, they sap enthusiasm.
But that doesn't mean this kind of thing can't work in smaller doses, and Maryland -- if all goes as planned this September -- should establish a more regular game-day presence at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore or at FedEx Field in Landover.
For this particular football program, at this particular time in its development, annual games in Maryland's two biggest NFL stadiums makes a world of sense, and the classic arguments for not playing them hardly hold water.
First, the points for playing the game are pretty simple. Baltimore's got a lot of great athletes, and having a bunch of wide-eyed prospective recruits from that city watching the Terps on the big stage can't do anything but help Randy Edsall and co.'s pursuit of the ones they want. There are few better ways to entrench a program in an area than by playing games there, and in a football-crazed city with plenty of talent, there's a strong payoff to taking the field at M&T.
There's also the matter of revenue. In a pro stadium, there's lots more of it. The economics are admittedly a tad fuzzy to me, but the calculation seems fairly simple: In an NFL venue, the host team can charge more for tickets and concessions. It can draw a bigger crowd because the game's being played in a large venue and if it features a marquee match-up, you can successfully accommodate the increased demand. Furthermore, when playing future Big Ten opponents, many of them have large alumni bases in the D.C. metro area, so holding the biggest B1G game at an NFL stadium with capacity of 71,008 (M&T) or 85,000 (FedEx), allows access to that additional revenue stream and demand. For games in Baltimore, it provides a college game to a major city, with a population of over 600,000, that lacks a major college football program. Demand for football in Baltimore is and always has been high, with the Ravens selling out every single game they've played since coming into existence in 1996. There are undoubtedly other factors at play, but they all point to the Terps making more money off a game in Baltimore or at FedEx Field than at Byrd Stadium.
A typical problem with pro stadiums as a permanent college team home, meanwhile, is that students don't want to shlep from campus for a however-many minute commute away from campus to get to games. Once a year, this doesn't seem like a big deal to me. Baltimore isn't a hard trip from College Park. There's a MARC train, which will soon be running on weekends, buses, and plenty of students who keep cars in College Park to get to Baltimore. Additionally, the school could provide some sort of transportation to students. FedEx field is even closer to College Park, has Metro and bus access, and again, the school could easily provide transportation to those students who couldn't otherwise get there. If students care enough about the team, they'll be there. And this will be great for attracting only quality fans; I don't like going out to a tailgate the morning of a game at Byrd and seeing hundreds of "fans" who, habitually, are going to pass out drunk and not even go to the game. Forgive the sports elitism, but I won't mind if those folks are weeded out for one afternoon. If kids are committed to the squad, they'll put on something red and drive 45 minutes.
The idea of an annual game isn't perfect and might not last forever, but I'm looking forward to taking a Baltimore day trip on Sept. 21. Here's to seeing it again against Penn State in 2015, and hopefully plenty more after that.
Tomorrow, Dave Tucker responds.