Harford Terps react to UMD's big move to the Big Ten

Monday's announcement that the University of Maryland is switching from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten, caught a lot of Harford County people with ties to the school, including both current and former athletes, completely off-guard.

Maryland senior field hockey player Lindsey Puckett, who captured back-to-back state championship titles with the Fallston Cougars in 2007 and 2008, said Tuesday evening after she had left her last class of the day, that she, along with everyone else, did not begin to hear about the move until Sunday.

"My teammates and I started to hear some things on Sunday, mostly through social media," Puckett said. "We didn't know anything officially until we were having a team meeting on Monday, though. I guess that was a good time for us to hear the news, because a lot of us were shocked. We were able to talk about it as a team, look at the bigger picture, go over some of the positive aspects of the change."

On Monday, university President Wallace D. Loh announced that the deal had been made, and that Maryland, a charter member of the ACC since it formed in 1953, is moving to the Big Ten conference starting in 2014. The news was still a shock to local residents days after it broke.

Former starting quarterback for the Terrapin football team and standout athlete at John Carroll, Al Neville Jr., who lives in Fallston, said the full scope of the decision had yet to sink in.

"Honestly, I'm still digesting all of what I've heard, and it's only been a few days, so I don't know if I can make any profound statements on the subject," Neville, who played quarterback for the Terps from 1971 to 1973, said. "I'm a bit stunned, and confused as to why a charter member of the conference, who's been playing there for the last 60 years, would make a move like this. I know that money dictates most of the decisions that are made in this world, and that there must be some kind of gain to be made from making the move, but until that's explained to me, I'm just going to say that I don't fully agree. Looking at it right now, it doesn't seem like the board of directors gave any thought to the fans, to the audience, and that this was all about the dollars."

Dr. Barry Bodt, a Fallston resident who graduated from Maryland in 1980 and remains a fervent supporter of Terrapin athletics, was also shocked when he heard the news.

"I was driving to work on Monday, and heard the news on the radio," Bodt said. "My initial thought, which I'm still thinking, was, 'I don't like it.' I was very surprised. I'm a traditionalist, and what Maryland is doing, in effect, is turning its back on six decades of ACC sports. There's been so many classic games over that stretch, like the 1974 conference championship with Maryland and UNC, and the rivalries that have been built up will be tough to start elsewhere. I guess that would be one of my biggest concerns, as a fan, that, at least with basketball, the rivalries just won't be there."

Puckett said moving away from the established rivalries among the ACC teams was a cause for concern among her teammates.

"Your whole identity, as a player and as a team, gets wrapped up in the rivalries that you see inside the conference," Puckett said. "When we play Duke and North Carolina, those are our two biggest games of the year, and everyone looks forward to them. I think everyone was worried that those games will disappear. Hopefully they won't, but we don't know yet."

Jack Scarbath, Maryland football's starting quarterback in the early 1950s, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1952, went on to play for three seasons in the NFL and was inducted in the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, is one of the people looking at the positive aspects of the switch, however.

"Of course, money is a big factor in this decision, but I think in the long run you're going to see an improvement in this," Scarbath, a Cecil County resident, said Tuesday. "I didn't play in the ACC. I played in the old Southern Conference, before the ACC began in 1953. I think it was a pretty good move in the long run. If you evaluate what [UMD] will receive from [switching conferences], and the athletic closeness of some of the programs in the Big Ten, or we should call in the Big 27 now, it's going to help the University."

Puckett said that, during the team meeting at which she and her teammates were made aware of the pending move, the field hockey coaches led a discussion on what it would mean for their program, and Maryland athletics at large.

"Like I said, I think we were lucky that we were having a team meeting when it was announced," Puckett said. "A lot of athletes that I know are still angry and upset about it, but we were able to see how the decision was made, from all the sides. I think that eased some people's minds, and helped them accept the change a little bit better. For one thing, the television coverage for field hockey is going to be a lot better. Normally, we only have a couple of games a season that are televised. We have international students on the team, and their parents can follow them a lot closer now, because of the games being broadcast."

Both Neville and Bodt expressed some concern over the effect changing conferences will have on some of Maryland's athletic programs.

"I'm sure football and basketball will be OK," Neville said. "The rivalries we're all used to won't be there, but the Big Ten has great basketball and football teams. The program that loses the most here is lacrosse. You're moving a national powerhouse from a conference with a lot of the best teams, to the Big Ten, and I don't even think all of the schools there have lacrosse teams. If I were a freshman on the lacrosse team, or a player who had just signed on with Maryland, I could easily say, 'I hate this move.' Just based on what the lacrosse team will have to give up, it doesn't look like all the bases were covered with this decision."

"Both the soccer and lacrosse teams are going to suffer with this move," Bodt said. "With soccer, a lot of that program's draw comes from its games with ACC and teams. You're going to push the fans away if you don't have those games on the schedule. As for lacrosse, I don't even know if there's a Big Ten school that has a program near Maryland's caliber. I think some of those schools don't even have lacrosse teams. Maybe Ohio State has an OK team, but that's about it."

The consensus among most fans and athletes is that it will take a long time to build up excitement for the Terps playing in a new conference, a sentiment that Neville expressed.

"It's just going to take me a long time to build my enthusiasm for this," Neville said. "Especially with basketball, and I'm a basketball nut. It's my favorite sport, it's going to take a long time to get excited about playing Big Ten teams. If you called me up and told me that there were two games on, Purdue vs. Wisconsin and Duke vs. UNC, I'm going to take the ACC game, every time. Not having that kind of excitement behind the games will take some getting used to."

Aegis correspondent Hafiz Rashid contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad