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Football ahead of academics once again at the University of Maryland

Maryland head coach Michael Locksley responds to a question during the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football media days Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Maryland head coach Michael Locksley responds to a question during the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football media days Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)

The University of Maryland is giving more ammunition to critics that say it is increasingly placing sports before academics. By announcing that it would cancel in-person classes beginning at noon to accommodate fans for a Friday night game against rival Penn State, the university shows just how tone deaf it truly is.

You think it would have learned from the protests following the death of Jordan McNair after he overheated following a workout in extreme hot weather conditions last year. Students, faculty and supporters then questioned whether the university lost site of what ought to be its most important mission — educating students.

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Yet, here it is again putting football ahead of academics. It is one thing to cancel classes for a snow day that may make it too hazardous for students and employees to get to campus. Cancelling classes because of an inconvenience is not a good excuse.

In a statement, university officials said the number of people coming to campus for the game would have an enormous impact on traffic and transportation that would be exasperated by construction, including work on the new Purple Line metro stop.

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“We explored several options in order to find a solution that would allow us to minimize the impact on academic schedules, while also addressing parking and traffic challenges,” the statement said.

We duly note that more than 50,000 fans are expected to show up for the game with a kickoff time of 8 p.m. on Sept. 27, the university’s first-ever Friday night game. Maryland Stadium holds 54,000, but the real issue will be that plenty of others will probably pack parking lots in the early afternoon to tailgate. It is the season opener for both teams and we can imagine that people will be excited.

University of Maryland president Wallace Loh speaks at a House of Delegates appropriations committee hearing, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. Seated behind Loh are University System of Maryland chancellor Robert Caret, second from right, and Board of Regents chair Linda Gooden. The hearing was called to examine how the university and Board of Regents responded to the death of football player Jordan McNair. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
University of Maryland president Wallace Loh speaks at a House of Delegates appropriations committee hearing, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. Seated behind Loh are University System of Maryland chancellor Robert Caret, second from right, and Board of Regents chair Linda Gooden. The hearing was called to examine how the university and Board of Regents responded to the death of football player Jordan McNair. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky / AP)

A university spokeswoman carefully pointed out that university faculty will have “a variety of options and resources available to ensure that learning can continue” that afternoon, even if not in the classroom. Labs will still be held and professors can choose to hold classes online. Sounds more like an excuse for people to take the afternoon off.

We wonder just how many people will take advantage of that option. Likely not many. Faculty can also ask the provost’s office for an exception to go ahead and hold a class. Again, we doubt many will. Even if faculty were to take advantage of these exceptions, what student is going to want to attend while the rest of campus is ushering in the new football season?

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Friday night games are a fairly new occurrence for The Big Ten, which began holding a limited amount of games on that night rather than the typical Saturday afternoon as part of a six-year, $2.64 billion broadcasting deal with Fox, ESPN and CBS.

The decision sparked a lot of criticism early on, including from the coaches at both Penn State and the University of Maryland. Maryland was scheduled to host Northwestern on a Friday night in 2017, but after both schools complained the game was moved to a Saturday. It is unclear why Friday night games are a good idea now, although there is a different football coach.

Most of the kerfuffle had nothing to do with academics unfortunately. People were more concerned about hurting high school football, which is big on Friday night in many states. Some coaches also worried about inconveniencing fans, who would have a harder time traveling out-of-state for a Friday night game than a weekend game.

The essential shutdown of campus (even though campus officials bristle when you say any class was canceled) because of a football game, also begs the question of whether or not the university is in over its head in joining the Big 10 conference. Perhaps it should have waited until it had the infrastructure in place to host the big crowds that the division draws. We are certain officials at the time knew it didn’t have the capacity for so many people. Now the students are paying the price academically.

Some might argue that it’s only a few hours of classes and not a big deal. But with the recent controversy around the football program, it doesn’t send the right message. The university said it will see what happens in September and review the “effectiveness” of its decision for future games.

We hope it will learn to always put academics ahead of football.

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