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Despite loss, Maryland reaping the benefits of first B1G home game

While Maryland was handed their worst defeat of the season Saturday, a packed Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium is exactly what Maryland hoped to achieve with their move to the B1G.

Dave Tucker

On Saturday, 51,805 people appeared at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium to watch Maryland's first-ever Big Ten home football game. The game was a historic event for the University, which chose to leave behind a conference they helped found by departing the ACC for the Midwest-based Big Ten. And while the 52-24 drumming Ohio State gave to Maryland on the gridiron is something many fans will want to forget, it's the number of people in the stands that was most significant for Maryland, even if thousands of them were yelling O-H, I-O.

Byrd Ohio state

As a program, Maryland football has certainly had their share of successes. They've won a National Championship, won the second-most ACC titles (9) during their 61 years in the conference, trailing only Florida State and Clemson, who each have 14, and have gone to 25 bowl games. But the one thing Maryland football hasn't been able to do is maintain success for an extended period, allowing them to grow and maintain their attendance base.

When Maryland wins, the fans will come. After three-straight seasons of winning at least 10 games and appearances in the Orange, Peach and Gator Bowls, Maryland really began building their home attendance numbers. Their home average peaked in 2005, when despite finishing below .500 the previous year, Maryland averaged a school-record 52,426 fans per game. Despite the recent struggles, hope for Maryland football remained high, propelling then Athletic Director Debbie Yow to move forward with plans to expand Tyser Tower, adding new luxury suites that were expected to filled as a ticket to Maryland football became a hot commodity. But Maryland was never able to achieve that same level of success they found during Friedgen's first three seasons. After bouncing back from back to back 5-6 campaigns, Maryland went  9-4 , but then struggled to a 6-7 season, rebounded by going 8-5 and then collapsed and finished 2-10. In Friedgen's final season, the Terps went 9-4, but their average home attendance slipped to the lowest point of his tenure, dropping below 40,000 for the first time.

Below is a chart showing Maryland's average attendance by season from 2001-present. I chose 2001 as the starting point mainly because that was Maryland's first winning season in five years. It also helps illustrate the correlation between winning and attendance.

Attendance 2001-2013

As you can see, when Maryland is successful, especially over several years, the fans show up at Byrd. And when they struggle, attendance goes down. So until you can build a program that is consistently, at minimum, going to bowl games, how can you help mitigate this flux in attendance, especially when there is a national trend of declining attendance over the past several years?  By joining a football conference that has a huge alumni base in Washington, D.C., notoriously travels well, and will help guarantee at least one big attendance game per year. Hello, Big Ten.

On Saturday, Byrd Stadium had, at minimum, 10,000 Ohio State fans in attendance. My cousin was one of them. There were probably closer to 15,000 OSU fans there. What ACC team would bring that many fans to an away game in College Park? Maybe Clemson?

OSU Fans at Byrd

This was towards the end of the Maryland-Ohio State game. A lot of the fans remaining in this picture are OSU fans.

While having a large number of opposing fans in your own stands isn't ideal, their money is still green. And even if Maryland is struggling, those fans will still be there to see and support their team and their attendance can help mitigate the Maryland fans who didn't make the trip out to Byrd. Think of the visiting B1G fans as somewhat of an insurance policy in attendance if Maryland struggles.

And when Maryland builds into a consistently winning program, which hopefully Randy Edsall is on track to do, they'll be able to continue to build their season ticket support for a winning program, while also offering the opportunity to see games against some of college football's traditional powers.

Having thousands of Ohio State fans chanting O-H, I-O near and throughout Byrd was certainly frustrating. It reminded me of the dark days of being an Orioles fan, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards was often taken over by Red Sox and Yankee fans. It made my blood boil to hear chants of "Let's go Yankees" in my team's stadium. But if those seats were going to otherwise be empty, at least they were providing financial support to my favorite team in their down years. And then, the Orioles got good again. And their fan base, which suffered through 14 long years of not even having a winning season, began to grow. Kids who had gone their entire life without seeing the black and orange in the post season got to experience it for the first time. And as they've maintained that success, you're seeing a lot less Yankee and Red Sox fans in Baltimore.

We might have to endure the same thing as Maryland fans over the coming years. It might not be pretty at first, but just think of those visiting Buckeyes and Ohio State folks as investors in the future of Maryland football. Hopefully, one day soon, we'll all be able to reap the benefits of their support. Here's hoping that day comes soon.