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15 Til Kickoff: Re-energizing Maryland's Football Fanbase

Judging by Maryland's fans' attitudes right now, an uninformed observer would have a pretty tough time figuring out that it's about to be football season. A report that states that Texas and Maryland will play a home-and-home gets little play (granted, it's forever in the future). A former four-star - the football equivalent of, say, Justin Coleman, for an example - transfers to Maryland, and after a short little dose of excitement it fades away. Most importantly, there's no hype; there's just a manner of subdued acknowledgement around the start of football season starting in the near future.

It's not that no fans are excited. I'm pumped, and I know a few others are, too. But you're not going to find the same excitement there was around basketball season last year. 1,000 comment gamethreads, which is pretty massive for us? Yeah, that's not gonna happen again. FanPosts about upcoming opponents and statistical analysis? Probably not gonna happen either.

Part of that is because Maryland's a "basketball school," especially for those on campus. While more experienced fans might remember Maryland's glory days of yore, back in the 70s and 80s, current students and recent graduates haven't exactly experienced much in the way of football success, and thus flock to basketball games with far more regularity. Even when Maryland has had 8- and 9-win season recently, the fans haven't been as involved as they were when Maryland went to the NIT in basketball. It takes real success to get fans involved, at least initially.

Oh, and there's the concern that Maryland will be just as bad as they were last year, or worse. Nobody gets hyped up for a 2-10 season, after all.

But the lack of excitement has some rather obvious negative effects. For one, it makes being a fan significantly less fun. For another, it's resulted in a massive drop in ticket sales, which is the bane of an overextended, underfunded athletic department - relatively speaking - like Maryland's.

But it's not all bad. There are some ways that Maryland can re-energize their fanbase and kick out the apathy. (Actually, only #1  and #5. #s 2, 3, 4 are kinda filler or auxiliary moves.)

  • Win some games. The Occam's Razor of re-energizing. If Maryland can compete, they can excite. Even in 2008, when the Terps ended up in the Humanitarian Bowl, there was a lot of excitement when even an outside chance at a conference title appeared - they had to win a game against FSU and an away game against BC, and lost both, but the excitement - at least for two weeks or so - was very real and tangible. After that, of course, it all mattered less, but the point still stands. Under one condition: they need to seriously win. As in, six wins and backing into a bowl game ain't gonna do it. After you go 2-10, you need serious competition, even if that's just in the conference, to bring the fans back out in droves.
  • Uniforms? Okay, so that's just my own personal thing, but I still think it's relevant. At the very least it'll bring up some attention and get a new look on the field. A lot of struggling programs bring in new unis to indicate a change, a cleansing of the troubles of old. Maryland might want to consider that.
  • A recruiting steal. It seems...unlikely, we'll say, at this point that Maryland will land Darius Jennings or Donovan Smith. Sadly, even either one of those (well, maybe Jennings) wouldn't do a lot to completely reinvigorate the fanbase. That'll take a one-of-a-kind talent, something that can make the news in the Washington Post. In other words, that's going to take a complete and utter longshot: Cyrus Kouandjio or Curtis Grant. (Maybe Wayne Lyons). If James Franklin wants a job, he can get it here. None are at all likely, but if N.C. State can grab a star, in-state offensive tackle, Maryland can do something like that, too.
  • Exciting talent, personalities, and schemes. Some players are worth the price of admission, just because they're a blast to watch. Others are able to stir up internet excitement their personality. Some offensive schemes are exciting enough to at least make the games interesting. Maryland doesn't really have any of those. Torrey Smith and Kenny Tate have that potential, as did Caleb Porzel, but if the Terps can find a bona fide star player - Da'Rel Scott, Demetrius Hartsfield, Tate, someone - they'll be able to at least stir up some discussion. And unless they abandon the run-heavy, mostly-boring pro-style offense in favor of a more spread-heavy or option-oriented attack, the games just won't be that fun to watch.
  • A new coach. I hate to say it, but Friedgen is...boring. So is Franklin. Fans know what they're getting from both of them, and they know the ceiling of at least one (maybe even both). It's clear that a team that's coached and recruited by Friedgen tops out at about 8 wins, with an occasional 9 or 10 win year an outside possibility. A new guy would bring new methods, new schemes, a new personality and a new look. Fans would want to see what his plan is, how the team performs under him, and so on and so forth. He'll need to win games, but he'll have about a year where fans will at least care. After that, hopefully he'll have a real reason to excite.
However they do it, Maryland's got to figure out how to get fans to care again. Football's the cash cow of collegiate athletics, even for basketball schools. When the NCAA released their revenue figures last year, even Maryland saw more profit from football than basketball. That's how big the difference in earning potential is.

When fans don't care, they don't buy. They don't buy tickets, buy merchandise, give to the school, and so on. Ralph Friedgen and Randy Eaton have to find a way to make fans care, or at least one of them might be out of a job.