COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has lamented all week that he can't tell yet how good the Terrapins are as they prepare for their game at No. 20 Clemson tomorrow.
How could Friedgen possibly know? Maryland's four-game nonconference schedule didn't include a truly formidable opponent on the road.
The only away game came at Middle Tennessee State, which hadn't beaten anyone from a Bowl Championship Series conference at home until defeating the Terrapins on Sept. 6. The Terps did defeat California, ranked No. 23 at the time, next week at home.
Of course, it's not just Maryland whose cushy nonconference schedule deprives coaches and fans opportunities to make genuine, early season assessments of their teams. Plenty of other schools load up their schedules with games in which they are hunters and their opponents are prey.
Clemson, Maryland's opponent tomorrow, slammed South Carolina State, 54-0, last week. The Tigers, who also routed The Citadel, 45-17, will be playing their fourth home game in a row since losing to Alabama in Atlanta in their season opener.
Why do scheduling mismatches occur? Hint: It's not to provide entertaining games for fans. These contests are rarely competitive. For every Appalachian State upsetting Michigan last season, there are many more examples of Kansas beating Southeastern Louisiana, 62-0, or Oklahoma annihilating North Texas, 79-10.
These games exist because big-dog schools are continually in the market for home games to fatten their bottom line. The games lead to wins and wins lead to bowls. The schools' thinking is that bowl games, even middling ones, heighten their program's prestige and enhance recruiting.
Maryland athletic director Deborah Yow said many of the Terrapins made their first trip to San Francisco when the team played in last season's Emerald Bowl, losing to Oregon State.
"It's a gift for the kids," Yow said of bowl games. Bowl-eligible programs also get extra practice time that can help mold teams for the future. Maryland reaps no windfall for making bowls because the proceeds are divided among the Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
The question is whether the ends (bowl games) justify the means (scheduling the occasional uninteresting, cupcake game). Clearly, many schools believe that's a fair trade-off.
Larry Leckonby has witnessed lions-versus-lambs scheduling from both sides.
As the longtime chief financial officer for Maryland athletics, Leckonby said he sought to tilt the nonconference schedule in favor of clearly winnable home games. Middle Tennessee, for example, was scheduled as a two-for-one, meaning the Blue Raiders got one home game out of the deal and Maryland got two. That helps Maryland achieve its goal of seven games a year at Byrd Stadium, along with five on the road. Maryland also acquires home games by paying financial guarantees to smaller schools such as Delaware to come to College Park.
In June, Leckonby was hired as AD at The Citadel. Now his school is the one that occasionally seems to be fodder at places such as Clemson.
"The big boys," Leckonby said, "can buy a game whenever they like."
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