As Maryland prepares for its ACC swan song, DC natives consider what will be lost

lkeeley@newsobserver.comOctober 22, 2013 

— When current ACC players who hail from the Washington, D.C. area were growing up –guys like Duke’s Tyler Thornton, Maryland’s Nick Faust, and Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant – Maryland native Juan Dixon led the Terrapins to the national title. And players like Wake Forest’s Chris Paul and Duke’s Jay Williams would come to town and were featured on the TVs belonging to the area’s budding ballplayers.

“That’s always been ACC country,” Grant said.

Starting next year, it won’t be.

The 2013-14 basketball season will mark Maryland’s last season in the ACC, the league the Terrapins helped found in 1953. Maryland will move to the Big Ten, an idea that seems as strange today as it did when word leaked out last November that a deal with the Midwest-based league was imminent.

“That one, of all the expansion moves, that’s been the hardest one to understand,” said Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, a Maryland native who also served as an assistant coach at Duke. “That is a hard one to grasp. Growing up a Maryland fan and all my buddies, I still see them, I have a place on Rehoboth Beach, Del., Maryland country, they’ll say, ‘Mike, what’s going on, why are we doing that?’ And that’s a hard one for me to grasp, it really is.”

The younger generation echoed that thought.

“Yeah, it always still baffles me,” Atkins said. “I actually always forget that they’re not going to be there. It’s really weird. Really weird.”

The Terrapins tossed 60 years of history for a few more million dollars from TV revenue per year, essentially. It’s hard to get an exact number on how much each conference pays its member schools – and all those figures are subject to change as deals are renegotiated and potential league networks are launched – but ESPN estimates that the Big Ten pays its members around $20 million annually, compared to $17 million for schools in the ACC (and Maryland doesn’t become a full equity partner in the Big Ten Network until July 2020). Should the ACC start its own network with ESPN, which seems likely, that figure would easily move to over $20 million.

It’s unclear how much current high school players value conference affiliation – former ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep, now with the San Antonio Spurs, wrote this summer that it’s no longer a decision factor for elite recruits. Not surprisingly, Faust, a current backcourt starter for the Terrapins, also said it didn’t matter what league a team called home. There are other, more important factors.

“I would say more so the school’s history,” he said “How much is it a winning school, things like that help.”

But much of Maryland’s history involves other ACC teams, like Duke and North Carolina. Both Faust and Atkins lit up recalling Jay Williams’ famous “miracle minute” on Jan. 27, 2001, when Duke shocked Maryland in Cole Field House thanks in large part to eight points from Williams in the final minute of an eventual 98-96 overtime win. Twelve years later, that was still a vivid memory from their childhoods.

“That Maryland-Duke game has always been something that has been a crazy game, one of the most anticipated games of the year for everyone in the state of Maryland,” Atkins said. “There’s going to be something missing there.”

Now, area prospects will be treated to games like Maryland vs. Nebraska.

“That’s the sad part about it, there’s no history with Maryland and those teams,” Thornton said. “It’s not going to be the same, not at least for a while.”

The Terrapins’ last year in the ACC won’t feature a home game against Duke or UNC, something that had never happened in the previous 60 years of the ACC. Commissioner John Swofford chalked that up to the “regular scheduling process,” but Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was skeptical.

“It’s strange if it’s never happened, yeah,” he said.

For his part, Turgeon said it has been “overwhelming” tracking two leagues, the ACC and the Big Ten. At this point, the Terrapins are recruiting players who will play in the Big Ten, but they still want to go out of the ACC with a bang.

While the league will add Louisville to replace Maryland next year, the ACC is losing its closest presence to D.C.’s fertile basketball recruiting grounds and the nation’s eighth-largest TV market. Swofford said the ACC still considers D.C. within its footprint – “it hasn’t moved,” he said – and said the city remains a priority.

Still, losing Maryland weakens the ACC in that market.

“That’s a void for this league right now,” Brey said. “Maybe you’ll get Maryland in the ACC-Big Ten, but that’s an important town that we’ve kind of lost. That concerns me, recruiting-wise.”

Brey said he would like Notre Dame to schedule a non-league game against Georgetown to get back in the D.C. market on a regular basis. He wouldn’t want to play Maryland, though, as the Fighting Irish already play two Big Ten opponents annually.

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has said since Maryland’s announcement that it was leaving that he would not schedule the Terrapins to preserve that series, a belief he reiterated at ACC media day last week. UNC’s Roy Williams said he might consider a game against Maryland in the future, but not while Turgeon, one of his assistants from his Kansas days, was coaching there.

Faust said the Terrapins would like to earn a win at either North Carolina or Duke in their final season, something no current player or Turgeon has experienced. Maryland last won in Durham in 2007 and Chapel Hill in 2008, when Gary Williams and Greivis Vasquez were leading the program (for his part, Vasquez tweeted that he didn’t like the move to the Big Ten when word came out last year).

“We’re here this year,” Faust said, “So you’ve got to make the best of it.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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