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Who, where, when -- but why exactly?

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK - Last week, Middle Tennessee State students raced onto the field to rejoice in a 24-14 victory over Maryland, one of the biggest football victories in the Sun Belt school's history.

To Terps fans watching on television, the celebration might have raised a question: How did the Blue Raiders get on Maryland's schedule? Why, for that matter, are the Terps playing California today for the first time and Eastern Michigan next week?

Not that there's anything wrong with playing these teams. But why them in particular?

The answer comes from studying Maryland's nonconference scheduling, a time-intensive procedure akin to matchmaking.

Because conference games dominate most teams' schedules, athletic department officials fill remaining dates with budgetary issues in mind. Middle Tennessee was scheduled as a two-for-one, meaning the Blue Raiders get one home game out of the deal and Maryland gets two.

That's good for Maryland's bottom line because it helps the school achieve its goal of seven games a year at Byrd Stadium, along with five on the road.

"In our world, what that [two-for-one] does is get us more home games," said Larry Leckonby, the former chief financial officer for Maryland athletics who was named athletic director at The Citadel in June.

"Of course, I signed the contracts, but I don't have any control over whether Ralph Friedgen wins and loses," Leckonby said, referring to Maryland's coach.

Naturally, Leckonby said, financial officers prefer it when their school wins. They try to tilt the schedule in favor of winnable games while providing the fans an attractive visiting team if possible.

"You want to maximize opportunities [in scheduling] from the fans' point of view, and you want to maximize the coach's chances of being competitive," Leckonby said.

Asked his priorities in scheduling, Friedgen replied quickly: "Obviously I want W's" - wins.

Friedgen said he is often wary of traveling to places such as Middle Tennessee, which has a stadium capacity of about 20,000 fewer than Maryland's but fans who are excited their team is playing an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.

"Last year, playing Florida International, there may be five people in the stands - same at Eastern Michigan - and they're playing it like it's the Super Bowl," Friedgen said. The Terps won at Florida International, 26-10, in front of an announced 12,201.

Schools cut all sorts of nonconference deals. Maryland has a two-for-one arrangement with Eastern Michigan similar to the one with Middle Tennessee, which is due to come to Maryland next season.

Then there is the straight home-and-home contract such as the one Maryland signed with Cal. It didn't hurt, Maryland officials said, that university president C.D. "Dan" Mote attended Cal and was a longtime faculty member and administrator there.

The Cal game, because it features a prominent Pacific-10 team, is attractive to fans but is also problematic because of travel and costs, athletic officials said.

Maryland will complete the series by traveling to Cal next season.

"It's amazing, the cost," said Randy Eaton, who succeeded Leckonby as Maryland's chief financial officer for athletics. "When we went to the Emerald Bowl [in San Francisco], our round-trip charter was $200,000 just for the plane."

Friedgen is on record as favoring more regional-rivalry teams such as West Virginia and Navy. The Terps will play both in 2010.

Maryland's nonconference schedule is booked through 2013. The school is already beginning to contemplate possible 2014 opponents.

Finding nonconference matchups is challenging because schools need to agree on logistics, money - sometimes larger schools offer smaller ones financial guarantees - and dates.

Leckonby said he probably contacted 60 schools before locking in nonconference opponents through 2013.

Said Eaton: "We have to keep in the back of our minds that we give our team the best opportunity to win so we can get into a bowl game. You wouldn't book USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State as three nonconference games."

CALIFORNIA

@MARYLAND

Today, noon

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: California by 14 1/2

terps today

Matchup: No. 23 California (2-0, 1-0 Pacific-10) at Maryland (1-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Time: Noon

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: California by 14 1/2

Series: First meeting

Maryland offense vs. California defense: The Terps hope to establish quarterback Chris Turner early and break a big gain for Da'Rel Scott, who is averaging 160 yards. Cal has surrendered an average of just 69 rushing yards (2.1 yards per carry) in its first two games. The Golden Bears also have five interceptions. This game will be about which team can get its speed guys, including Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, free and into the end zone.

Maryland defense vs. California offense: Big plays, anyone? Watch out for Jahvid Best running behind 253-pound fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou. Best averages 155.5 yards and had touchdown runs of 80 and 86 yards as Cal scored 66 points against Washington State. Shane Vereen had an 81-yard touchdown run against Michigan State.

Jeff Barker

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