By DERON SNYDER
The football program has failed to blast off under fourth-year coach Randy Edsall and the men’s basketball program has a shaky trajectory under fourth-year coach Mark Turgeon.
The women’s basketball team has excelled in 12 seasons under coach Brenda Frese, with a national title, two Final Fours, four Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s in the books.
It’s too bad that owning dominant women’s hoops program doesn’t earn much cred at the Power 5 table in college sports.
But the University of Maryland elevated its stature to become a big-time player Tuesday, in an area that’s more important than won-loss records and unrelated to championships. In one bold move, the Terrapins jumped to the forefront of intercollegiate athletics.
Suddenly, the Terps are helping to lead the discussion in the midst of an evolving landscape.
The national conversation rarely includes any sports outside of football and basketball. But Maryland has gone all-in on all of them. Not just the revenue producers, but also the other 16 sports (six for men, 10 for women) that athletic director Kevin Anderson shepherds.
“When we got together and developed the strategic plan for our department, it was very clear from the beginning that we’re committed to all of our student-athletes,” Anderson said in a phone interview after Maryland announced it will offer guaranteed athletic scholarships for life beginning next year.
“When we sat down and talked about doing this, from Day 1 we said it had to be for everybody.”
Earlier this summer, USC announced it will begin offering four-year athletic scholarships in football and men’s and women’s basketball. Multiyear scholarships have become a rallying cry for advocates, who rightfully criticize the year-to-year model in which scholarships can be terminated for any arbitrary reason.
A few days later, Indiana unveiled its “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights,” which – similar to Maryland’s new program – provides multiyear scholarships and continued financial assistance for athletes who leave school early.
The Terps gave their new policy a highly marketable name, “The Maryland Way Guarantee.” That moniker will resonate among parents, 99 percent of whom have children who will never play for a living.
Those parents look at athletics as a ticket to education, not a path to pro stardom. Knowing that the scholarships are assured until graduation – regardless of athletic performance or eligibility – will provide a huge sigh of relief.
“I truly believe in the value of a scholarship,” Anderson said. “My parents told me there’s nothing more valuable than an education. If we do our job correctly and provide an opportunity to educate and graduate these young people, I believe there’s a lot of value in that.
Such perspective is getting lost in the discussion on college sports nowadays, because so much focus is on the minority of student-athletes who play football and basketball. About 62 percent of Maryland’s scholarship athletes play other sports.
Most of them are as anonymous as fourth-string left tackles and end-of-the-bench point guards. Their teams don’t enjoy lengthy write-ups in national publications or play on TV every week. No one is arguing that they’re being exploited and deserve to be paid.
They’re pitchers and hurdlers, goalies and wrestlers, setters and golfers. And they have to juggle studying with practicing, training, traveling and competing, just like their glamorous peers on the gridiron and the hardwood.
Surely they’re as valuable as the left tackle who never plays. Certainly they sacrifice as much as the point guard who never checks in.
The least schools should do is grant non-revenue athletes the same scholarship benefits USC granted to those in the most popular sports. It remains unclear whether non-revenue athletes eventually will receive the “cost-of-attendance” stipends that are inevitable for football and basketball players in the Power 5 conferences.
Anderson said all athletes “should” be in line for that assistance. But he couldn’t guarantee it will come to pass. “We’re heavily involved in those kinds of discussions,” he said. “We find it hard to believe we wouldn’t consider everyone who participates at Maryland.”
Any stipend would be gravy for most parents. The real meat-and-potatoes is the lifetime guaranteed scholarship for all sports.
“Our coaches have the opportunity to go into every home and look parents in the eye and say we’re committed to your child’s academics and athletics,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure people compete at the highest level, wherever their platform is, both on the field and in the classroom.”
Maryland has missed the mark lately in two of the big three sports.
But when it comes to what really matters in intercollegiate athletics, the Terps just hit the bull’s-eye.