Coach K Is Not Interested In Playing Maryland Anymore, But He Should BePosted by Chris Johnson on September 17th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Sometimes conference realignment is unforgiving. When the motivation is to get paper now, or position oneself better in a changing FBS football landscape, or cash in on a lucrative television deal, switching leagues is the obvious move to make – no matter how much long-standing tradition or geographical or cultural common sense gets bulldozed in the process. This is the brutal calculus schools were forced to assess in the latest round of realignment moves, and the result – for college hoops, at least – wasn’t always a happy ending. When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, it ended one of college sports’ best rivalries (with Kansas). Texas A&M’s move to the same conference ended a great annual football game (with Texas), and an underrated and desultorily good hoops match-up. Syracuse’s leap to the ACC closed the curtain on its decades-old Big East feud with Georgetown. Fortunately, it appears the Hoyas and Orange are on the cusp of locking in a home-and-home series to continue one of the sport’s great games outside of its traditional Big East-tethered form. The two schools came together, understood their games were just too bitterly competitive, and too fun, to simply give up just because football and TV money forced them to part ways. Syracuse and Georgetown will benefit, because it adds another quality opponent to one another’s non-conference schedules, and college hoops as a whole will benefit, because the Hoyas and Orange typically play some of the most entertaining, hotly-contested, dramatic games in any given year. Perhaps other schools can take Syracuse and Georgetown’s lead, work through whatever logistical hurdles exist and spark up their rivalry hate in this post-realignment world. Keeping these sorts of rivalry games churning across newly configured leagues is important for the long-term health of the sport.
Or you can be like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who apparently wants nothing to do with future Big Ten member Maryland, who will only play the Blue Devils once in the regular season this year before leaving for its new league. Kryzewski spoke out against Maryland’s motivations for leaving the ACC when the news broke last fall. He expressed many of the same concerns most college sports purists do when lamenting the products of realignment: an attack on tradition, prioritizing monetary gain over cultural and geographical fit, the destruction of rivalries. None of that is particularly novel, but coming from Kryzewski, it felt like one of the stronger harangues we have heard against the recent whirlwind of shifting league allegiances. Maryland was completely frank about its move to the Big Ten – its athletic department, struggling to stay afloat financially, saw an avenue to steady its economic future through a broadcast rights windfall, and predictably jumped at the opportunity. It was the smart financial move for Maryland, and probably the best hope for curing its still-unenviable financial state, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the ACC welcomed the switch with rousing acclaim. Duke, a team Maryland has waged some truly memorable conference games against in recent years, won’t even think about scheduling the Terrapins as an annual non-conference fixture.
Kryzewski went on ESPN 980 to explain why:
The quality of athlete on the court and then the atmosphere that they were able to play in really brought out some special moments,” Coach K agreed, discussing the Duke-Maryland games of the late ’90s and early 2000s. “You can’t just say you’re going to replicate that in another conference right away. That was already there. It was established over a period of time, and that won’t happen again. That’s not gonna happen again, because we’re not gonna schedule them. It’s tough to schedule anybody when you have 18 conference games. But when we schedule non-conference, it’s usually outside of our conference area, so that we play national teams.
Clearly, Kryzewski isn’t happy with the change realignment has wreaked on the Duke-Maryland rivalry specifically, and college sports more generally, and he’s not willing to carve out a spot on the Blue Devils’ non-conference docket to revive the schools’ historically great series. Duke may never consider Maryland one of its biggest rivals, but there’s no denying the competitiveness and passion and sheer ether packed into some of the games these teams played over the years. No matter what partisans on either side of the firing line will say – including the subset of Maryland supporters who claim the Terrapins wouldn’t even want to schedule Duke – this is a loss both programs will regret down the line. The itch to experience “”Not our rival. Clap. Clap. Clap clap clap. Not our rival. Clap. Clap. Clap clap clap” on one side and “”F*** Duke” on the other will be too naggingly persistent to brush off entirely. Duke may never schedule Maryland again, and we may never see these teams meet outside of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but I can’t help but feel there will always be some sense of an opportunity lost here, and for what? If it comes down to scheduling logistics, and Duke really can’t make room for one more game on its “national” schedule – which I sort of find hard to believe, but whatever – then fine. But the impetus for Maryland to leave the ACC shouldn’t factor into Kryzewski’s reluctance to re-schedule; Maryland left because its athletic department is falling into financial disrepair. Jim Delaney comes calling with wads of cash, and a sweet Big Ten Network deal, and what? You’re not going to cash that check? Yes, great rivalries, and strong historical ties to a basketball-first league were severed, but can you really blame Maryland for making the most financially sensible move available?
In any case, the two teams do not look like they will be matching up on a regular basis any time soon. With the necessary amount of initiative and willingness to cooperate on both sides, rivalries can survive the rifts created by conference realignment – Georgetown and Syracuse are proving as much. Others die for good.