With Maryland's decision to leave ACC for Big Ten, memories like this one of Greivis Vasquez celebrating Terps' 2010 win over Duke on senior night at Comcast Center, (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press) or his triple-double against North Carolina (photo courtesy of the University of Maryland) will never have the same significance again.
As a fan of the University of North Carolina, it is only natural that some of my greatest basketball memories involve one of the Tar Heels' biggest rivals, one whom I always respected because the same intensity and determination I would see when this team played the likes of Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Roy Williams would be on the same full display against UNC's perennial adversary Duke. That is how I came to appreciate the University of Maryland, a program that managed to remain nationally relevant despite living in the shadow of two bigger giants within their own conference. Sadly, the Maryland I came to know and respect as a fan has changed drastically over the last two years, first with the retirement of longtime head coach and college basketball legend Gary Williams in May of 2011 before the latest life-changing announcement this afternoon out of College Park.
As reported by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Maryland will leave the Atlantic Coast Conference; a league in which the Terrapins were a charter member back in 1953, in favor of the Big Ten, with an official announcement to be made at a 3pm press conference. Maryland will not be coming alone, as it was revealed that Rutgers will be leaving the Big East to join the Big Ten, something this site will profile in greater detail after their announcement is made official. Both schools are expected to move into their new home for the 2014-15 season. Maryland's exodus is the latest domino to fall in a conference realignment saga that the ACC has been at the center of, first prying Syracuse and Pittsburgh away from the Big East before doing the same to Notre Dame two months before losing the Terps today.
Once again, football looks to be the biggest reason on paper for the change in affiliations, as Maryland's football program would have a stronger base of competition in the Big Ten than it would in the ACC, which for all intents and purposes is not regarded as a football hotbed after Florida State and maybe Virginia Tech. On the contrary, while the Terps' basketball programs; both of whom have won national championships in the past decade, escape from the specter of having to perennially look up at North Carolina and Duke, the memories that each leaves behind are enough to outweigh any perceived benefits the Big Ten can possibly offer.
Starting in 2001, when Williams and the Terps knocked off Stanford behind 24 points from Lonny Baxter to reach the school's first-ever Final Four, it was a sign that you didn't have to be the Tar Heels or the Blue Devils to succeed in the ACC and make a name for yourself. Maryland proved that a year later in the Georgia Dome when Williams cut down the net in Atlanta following an emphatic 64-53 victory over Indiana. Two years later, one of the greatest Maryland runs in my lifetime occurred when a Terps team that looked headed for the NIT rattled off three straight wins in the ACC Tournament to win the conference title, capped off by a thrilling overtime win over Duke. A 2006 national championship for the women's team after they defeated my alma mater St. John's along the way was the next crown jewel for Maryland basketball, with one of the greatest games of all time taking place nearly three years later in the Comcast Center: The 35-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist performance of Greivis Vasquez, only the third triple-double in Maryland history, en route to an 88-85 overtime upset of eventual national champion North Carolina.
Maryland celebrates 2004 ACC championship, completing Cinderella run to get into NCAA Tournament, where a two-point loss to Syracuse kept Gary Williams' Terps out of Sweet Sixteen. (Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland)
Yet today, these great Maryland moments are just mere footnotes in the history of a great basketball program that now has to start over in a new conference thanks to forces of another sport driving the engine. The Terps will almost certainly compete alongside schools like Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, but it will just not be the same. Sometimes change is good, but when it sacrifices great basketball memories in a conference that has traditionally been one of the best in college basketball, it should not have to happen. However, it is just yet another cruel example of the world we live in; where just as children mature over time and become adults, society as well becomes bigger and more demanding, and college athletic departments seek to become bigger and more efficiently operating businesses just as your local convenience store or restaurant may. As a North Carolina fan, I will eventually come to grips with not seeing Maryland on the schedule, but quite honestly, there will be an empty feeling initially when all the memories built up over my 26 years get put to rest with a rivalry that should never have died in the first place. As the media member I currently am, all I can do is write about what was and what will be; and hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be a realignment aftereffect with a positive result.