Terrapins in the Soup


When Debbie Yow, athletic director for the University of Maryland College Park, was asked about the terms of the contract extension for the school's struggling football coach last year, she summed them up succinctly as "Let's keep going forward."

If only the state's most visible collegiate sports program could meet that self-professed goal.

One day, the men's basketball team is a post-season tournament favorite. Another day, its star is deemed ineligible for a top award because of his grades. Yet another day, that same star is selected first in the pro basketball draft, bestowing national acclaim on the school. And then, the star football quarterback is suspected of being among five Terrapin athletes who bet on college games, leading the National Collegiate Athletic Association to suspend student-athletes from portions of next season. One step forward, one step back.

The details of this inquest aren't fully known. Appeals will follow. Indeed, College Park officials can make a case they're getting cited for jaywalking in Gomorrah, that the school is being slapped with unduly harsh sanctions in a system riddled with abuse. But we're having trouble getting past Ms. Yow's self-pitying reaction that the school is being picked on again. Her stance that this player or that player deserves a punishment of "X" number of games rather than "Y" misses the point.

When Ms. Yow was brought in from Saint Louis University a year ago, her mission was to right the department's listing financial ship, but also to restore the sheen to a sports program badly tarnished by Len Bias' drug overdose.

It would be naive to suggest a big-time college sports program can be free of transgressions by immature teens and overzealous Sugar Daddy alumni. But it should not be too much to ask the school to adopt a tone of "zero-tolerance" toward clear illegalities, such as gambling. If an athlete, especially one on scholarship, humiliates the program, he or she should be off the team. True, UMCP initiated the present probe, but investigations don't send messages, outcomes do.

The state's flagship public university needs to get off this roller coaster. It owes that to Marylanders who feel a stake in the school's future and to the rule-abiding students and staff inside and outside the College Park athletic department.

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