For the past four years, my own school’s prestigious basketball program has toiled in mediocrity (and missed the tournament the year before I arrived here, too). Mind you, this was a team that, when I was a freshman, was three years removed from a national championship and one year removed from a conference championship. However, as my years here have gone on, the team has gotten worse and worse, and the situation has finally reached a boiling point with fans, players, coaches and the athletic department. I usually do not like to comment on big things like sports or politics (even though they are my passion) because there are way too many critics and professionals who could do it a lot better than I can (and are paid accordingly), but the situation at the University of Maryland needs to be commented on by a fan.
As a freshman, I was pretty excited to come to a school like the University of Maryland that was rich in tradition and lively fans. That year we reached a ranking of number twelve before our best player became academically ineligible and we were left on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. I thought that year was a fluke and bad luck just hit the team. Despite our bad luck, us fans continued to pack the Comcast Center and cheered with pride.
This pride and packed houses continued for the next two years, where we made the tournament my sophomore year and collapsed and did not make the tournament my junior year. My junior year was when things truly started to go downhill. At the end of the year, the Terrapins completely collapsed and lost very winnable conference games. In addition, they were in position before the stretch run to make the tournament despite losses to American and Ohio. By the end of the year, the fans had lost interest and the team was not playing to the kind of crowds they used to. I hoped that this would not carry over to the next year.
Over the offseason this past spring, there was some very turbulent times. We lost our top two recruits (and now there is finger pointing over this). We were ranked anywhere from eighth to twelth in the ACC preseason rankings. People were calling our coach, Gary Williams, over the hill and out of the loop. Well, the Terps answered the challenge early on, however they were playing to an empty house. Now, despite the start, the team is not playing well and the fans that were so loyal a couple years ago are no longer around.
This disappearance of loyal fans includes myself. I am sick of mediocre basketball. As Stephen A. Smith commented in an article a couple days ago, it is our job as fans to keep the team in check and to make sure they are playing their hardest. And in my opinion, the Terps look flat and not polished and giving a half-assed effort. How can they expect fans to want to watch this kind of basketball? In addition, nobody on this team is likable. The Terps do not have a marketable star or anyone the student section can relate to.
Many are calling for Coach Williams’ head, but in my opinion the Athletic Department should give him one more year to prove himself–one more year of fantastic Gary Williams circa 1998-2004 basketball. This will give him one last chance to prove he can recruit (which he has failed to do for a couple years now. Here’s a suggestion, Coach: we are in a great area for recruiting. Go to these blue chip basketball players and say, “You have a chance to be the reason why the Maryland basketball program is saved.” Simple as that. Sure, you will probably lose half of the recruits to Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, etc., but I’m sure there are recruits out there who would love the added ego boost with saving a program on their resume.
As for the fans, I think you should stay loyal, but I don’t blame you if you stay away from the stadium until the team gets better. Terps fans were used to a certain quality of play. And now, it’s gone. So I don’t blame you.
For me personally, it’s hard to take three hours of my day to go to a game where I know I am going to watch a subpar basketball team play subpar basketball. Tuesday’s game against Boston College was a perfect example. We completely fell apart in a perfect sample of subpar basketball. I got angry, and taking Stephen A. Smith’s advice, I yelled at the players, and was actually warned by staff to be quiet. I was annoyed and disappointed. I didn’t want to see this team play anymore. It didn’t help that a day after this horrific showing, the backlash against Coach Williams became national news and became quite controversial. All of this really betrayed me as a fan. I guess it makes it easier to leave College Park in May, but as a I diehard sports fan who lives and dies with his teams, this just hurts.