Maryland’s vision of new grandeur facilities shows the level of commitment the athletic department will make when the program enters the Big Ten next year. The unspoken endgame might well be a pursuit of becoming Oregon East.
The Washington Post reported last week that Maryland proudly displays in its current fieldhouse artist renderings of proposed facilities for which the athletic department will aggressively pursue funding.
Considering the budget crisis facing the Maryland athletic department, this might seem like a classic case of caviar taste on a tuna budget.
However, Maryland’s open letter of optimism carries far more strategy than naïve hope. The department wants to capitalize on the excitement stemming from its impending move from the ACC to the Big Ten to make a program-changing splash.
More directly, Maryland seems to be throwing up the bat signal for UnderArmour founder and CEO Kevin Plank, a former football player and a noted booster.
To this point, Plank has donated money, but not the difference-making coin Nike CEO Phil Knight tosses out to his alma mater, Oregon.
The idea of Maryland becoming a national power might seem absurd.
After all, one might argue, the Terrapins have gone just 6-18 over the past two seasons and, over the past decade, have more losing seasons than winning seasons in ACC play.
Going back even further, Maryland has won exactly one conference title since 1986.
Then again, Oregon saw its stock rise from humble beginnings as well.
In 1994, Rich Brooks led a three-loss Oregon team won the Pac-10 to qualify for the Rose Bowl.
Brooks left for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, handing the reins to offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti.
Two years later, Bellotti proved instrumental in ushering in Phil Knight and the generosity of Nike.
Oregon’s magical 1994 run to the roses was far more exception than rule when Brooks led the improbable charge. The Ducks hadn’t represented the league in the Pasadena-based New Year’s Day spectacular since 1957 and had finished with almost twice as many losing records (21) as winning seasons (12) over that period.
Despite a nice run in the late-80s, the Quack Attack lacked bite and faded to the back of the Pac-10 before 1994.
Bellotti continued what then qualified as remarkable success for the program in his first season, leading Oregon to the Cotton Bowl.
As the story in the previous link describes, a meeting on that trip marked the start to Knight’s relationship with the athletics department. That all started with an overhaul of facilities, including $30 million Knight gifted in 2002 to renovate Autzen Stadium.
Nike doubled down with fresh new look after fresh new look for the players. Oregon became known as the program that never wore the same uniform twice, trying out any and all new looks.
Players loved the bright colors – especially when it came with a brighter spotlight.
As the perks of becoming a Duck improved, so too did the football program. Bellotti led the Ducks as high as a No. 2 postseason ranking in 2001 – QB Joey Harrington’s senior season – before handing his program to Chip Kelly.
Oregon went to four BCS bowls over Kelly’s four seasons, including a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
Bellotti and Kelly shared many similarities. Among them was their salesmanship to recruits on the unparalleled facilities Oregon has to offer.
Nobody, Knight and the Oregon athletic department seemed to say, would match the programs in that category.
Before long, Ducks coaches went wherever they wanted to recruit whoever they wanted – expanding their footprint to previously untapped mega-high school football markets such as Los Angeles and Texas.
Today, Oregon opens each season on the short-list of national title contenders – among the ranks of Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma.
Such a thought would have been laughable 20 years earlier, yet today it’s accepted as fact.
Phil Knights aren’t readily available. Athletic directors and coaches can’t walk into Wal-Mart and grab one off the shelf. If they could, every program would have one.
Maryland is fortunate in that regard. Plank has tremendous affinity for Maryland and its athletics department.
A tweet last week from @insidemdsports indicates Plank’s alleged preparedness to step to the plate.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p>On the topic, I've heard potential Under Armour commitment in <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Terps&src=hash”>#Terps</a> new indoor football facility could end up in the $30 million range.</p>— Jeff Ermann (@insidemdsports) <a href=”https://twitter.com/insidemdsports/statuses/375679198007791617″>September 5, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
Plank has donated regularly to Maryland – just not anywhere in the same stratosphere as what Knight has done at Oregon.
The UnderArmour exec tried a strategy previously employed by Knight – the uniforms. The first new unis – which debuted in the 2011 opener against Miami – were largely bashed and they aren’t likely to be found on the runway of America’s Next Top Model anytime soon, but they scored big with players.
The next logical step for Plank would be to help the Terrapins make immediate waves in the Big Ten by funding world-class facilities to compete with any in the new conference.
Of course, one prolific booster does not a program make – regardless of what Oregon’s critics might say.
Maryland seemingly has the support staff in place to commit to football as well. Even with all the budget turmoil, athletic director Kevin Anderson’s blueprint for bigger, better, more Futurama-y facilities bodes well for the program.
Furthermore, Maryland president Wallace Loh has already shown a willingness to make tough, unpopular decisions when the university’s profile is at stake. Loh, who came to College Park from Iowa, will go down in Maryland history as the man who green-lit the move to the Big Ten.
Loh seemingly understands what a marketing tool the football program can be for his university – just as Plank has already seen what successful programs wearing his product can do for the UnderArmour brand.
None of this matters, though, if the wins don’t follow. In other words, expect the pressure on third-year coach Randy Edsall to crank up in a hurry.
Edsall has a chance to be at the forefront of a Maryland revolution. He can be the Mike Bellotti of the program.
It’s too early to tell, but now that he’s playing with a full deck, he might be up to the challenge.
Last year’s injury-riddled season left him with a true freshman converted linebacker – Shawn Petty – playing quarterback for the last several games of the season.
Last year’s projected starter, C.J. Brown, has been stellar through a pair of cupcake victories in 2013.
More importantly, Edsall’s staff has done a good job keeping key talent in-town despite the down seasons. Namely, the signings of WR Stefan Diggs and LB Yannick Ngakoue have gone a long way inside and around the Beltway. That those two have made immediate impacts – and that Diggs seems destined to be a national star – only serves to help great recruiters like Mike Locksley haul in the area’s big fish.
This year DE Jesse Aniebonam – the No. 2 recruit in the state – has already committed to the Terps. Maryland is also in on local uber-prospects DT Damian Prince and CB Jalen Tabor. Either of them would be enormous game-changers for the 2014 recruiting class.
Though the 2013 season is off to a promising start, a similar run to that of Oregon’s 1994 Rose Bowl seems highly unlikely.
Reemerging as one of the upper-middle class of the ACC would suffice, though.
After that, the pressure’s on Maryland to engage Plank as the type of partner Knight has become at Oregon.
If it succeeds, the artist renderings of the dream facilities hanging outside Edsall’s office might be just the beginning.