Terps Trio: Notre Dame to the ACC, Randy Edsall vs. UConn, Sam Cassell Jr.'s eligibility

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland  sports.

What does the addition of Notre Dame mean to the ACC and to Maryland?


Jeff Barker: For the ACC, it means a level of comfort – or at least as much comfort as any conference can have in an era in which so much seems to be changing.

The comfort lies in knowing that the ACC is adding and not subtracting. And it's been able to add quality.

Because it is such a recognizable brand, Notre Dame is a big, important card for any conference to hold when it is negotiating (or renegotiating) TV deals or trying to get fans in the seats.

It may even be a better arrangement for Notre Dame, which still has a national football broadcast deal and will look to upgrade its basketball program through its association with the potent ACC.

Maryland wants to be in an energized conference with marquee teams, so the announcement was generally welcomed in College Park.

Of course, the news also meant that Terps coaches will have a new opponent – and a formidable one in some sports – to compete with for ACC championships.

How much will Randy Edsall's hasty departure after the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago impact Saturday's game against Connecticut?

Don Markus: When Edsall was first announced as the new coach at Maryland and the 2012 schedule showed a matchup with his former team, I thought it would be an interesting storyline given the way Edsall left the Huskies in Arizona without telling them he was headed for an interview -- and likely a new job -- in College Park.

I know that a couple of Connecticut players were even asked about it back then, when the emotions were still raw, and it seemed like it was the kind of game that might have been rescheduled -- or even canceled -- in order to avoid having to dredge up the story again.

When Edsall had all the issues last year in his inaugural season with the Terps, finishing 2-10 and losing the last eight games and getting blown out in most of them while players were leaving the program seemingly every week, I thought of the Connecticut game as sort of a crucible for Edsall.

Given the way the schedule fell -- a trap opener against William & Mary, a potentially tough trip to Philadelphia to play a Temple team that blew Maryland out at Byrd Stadium in 2011 -- I figured that fans would stay away in droves and make their own statement if the Terps hadn't shown much improvement.

If the Terps had started 1-1, or even 0-2, with a trip to West Virginia looming, I thought a loss to the Huskies would have been crushing for Edsall. The calls for his firing, which were heard throughout the offseason, would have been renewed however unrealistic they were given Edsall's long-term contract and the financial state of Maryland athletics.

Now, given Maryland's 2-0 start and last Saturday's 36-27 win over the Owls that was fueled by the offensive play of two freshmen (quarterback Perry Hills and receiver/returner Stefon Diggs), the edge has been taken off this game -- at least until the teams hit the field Saturday afternoon.

Not only has the promising start quieted the unhappy fan base -- at least for now -- but most of the Connecticut players who were part of that Fiesta Bowl team seem to have backed off their hostility toward Edsall. It could simply be not wanting to give Edsall fodder to use in his pregame speech or that the anger has dissipated over the 21 months that have passed since Edsall left without telling his team.


I give Edsall credit for addressing the issue this week -- even if he did take an unnecessary (and possibly unintentional) shot at the Connecticut media during his teleconference with reporters up there. John Maroon, the Columbia-based PR man who was hired to reshape Edsall's image, certainly had his hand in that, as did Maryland's new athletic spokesmen Matt Taylor and Zack Bolno.

By admitting that he would have done things differently -- which should have also included saying that he wouldn't have made running back Jordan Todman tell his teammates he was leaving for the NFL in the locker room after the game -- Edsall helped defuse the story as much as possible.

Having said all of this, I still think that there are more than a few Connecticut players remaining who would like to get a little bit of payback for their former coach.

I talked to a couple of former Huskies who now play at Towson -- receivers Gerrard Sheppard and Leon Kinnard -- who transferred back home a few months after Edsall left. They said that some of their former teammates -- even a few who were happy that Edsall was gone -- wanted a little revenge for the desertion in the desert, as some in the Connecticut media put it.

It will certainly be interesting to see how things play out, but from the look of things, Maryland should be 3-0 after whipping up on the less-than-formidable Huskies at home. If that happens, second-year Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni will take Edsall's place on the hot seat.

Sam Cassell Jr. has been flagged by the NCAA clearinghouse for courses he took at Notre Dame Prep two years ago. How did this happen to the Maryland freshman, and what will become of him if he's unable to suit up for the Terps?

Matt Bracken: Two types of basketball players end up at prep schools: those who need help academically to qualify, and those who seek more exposure. Cassell absolutely fits into the latter category. Had the West Baltimore native stayed at St. Frances – where he played his junior year after spending his freshman and sophomore seasons at Towson Catholic – he likely would have had no problem meeting NCAA qualifying standards, according to a source close to the Panthers.

So Cassell did what several other Baltimore high school stars – Cleveland Melvin (DePaul), Kim English (Missouri), Antonio Barton (Memphis) – did before him by enrolling at Notre Dame Prep. When Cassell left St. Frances, he was considered a mid-major recruit. Two years later, the 6-foot-3 combo guard had his pick of high-major options, eventually selecting Maryland over scholarships from Connecticut, Florida State, Pittsburgh and South Florida, among others. Cassell's primary motivation for spending two years at NDP was landing bigger offers, and that goal was clearly reached.

But thanks to an NCAA crackdown on prep schools, Cassell's future in College Park is in question. CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman reported this week that Cassell – and Xavier pledge Myles Davis – were ruled ineligible by the NCAA because they took four core classes at NDP that were later invalidated once the prep school was put on the NCAA's watch list. Eight of Cassell and Davis' teammates took the same courses and played as college freshmen during the 2011-12 season.

If that set of circumstances sounds ridiculous to you, I'm going to assume that you aren't employed by the NCAA. If college sports' governing body wants to crack down on rogue prep schools, that's fine. But take the suggestion of Davis' father and grandfather the rule in so kids like Cassell and Davis aren't affected. Cassell wasn't going to be an academically borderline kid, but now he is being treated like one because a prep school that he – and many others – saw as legitimate is now under fire.

I was told that Cassell's No. 1 priority was getting cleared by the NCAA and playing for Maryland – the program he grew up following and had already become acclimated to thanks to his time spent in College Park over the summer. The Maryland staff planned to do everything in its power to fight for Cassell in his appeal, and the coaches clearly wanted him to be part of this team. But Goodman reported late last night that Cassell's final appeal to the NCAA was denied.


If that report is true, expect Cassell to end up at a mid-major-plus program where partial qualifiers are permitted. It wouldn't be playing for his hometown school, but there are some attractive options out there for Cassell that would serve as solid consolation prizes. It's just a shame that something Cassell had no control over will likely cost him his dream.




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