A final goodbye to Maryland in the ACC

Maryland may have had funky new uniforms towards the end, but for 61 years, they were a part of the traditional fabric of the ACC. 

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC is a league that has always prided itself on its rich history and tradition. It’s a delicate balance, certainly, as college sports heads full-steam ahead into the 21st century and money is more a factor than ever before. But it’s one the league likes to think that it does well.

That’s why it was such a shock to the ACC — and, really, to everyone — when Maryland announced it was leaving in November of 2012.

Only one other member has ever left the ACC in its 61-year history, and that was South Carolina (in 1971). But South Carolina’s issues with the league had been pretty well-known. Maryland’s — aside from the school’s opposition to the exit fee (which was voted in anyway) — were not, and the negotiations to make the move were mostly made in secret.

And both South Carolina and Maryland, the only two schools that have left the league now (both charter members), might have ended up leaving because of issues that were cleared up not long after their exit.

South Carolina was not a fan of the ACC instituting a minimum requirement of an 800 on the SAT, and that requirement was eventually struck down by the courts a year later. Maryland was very concerned about the ACC’s long-term financial stability, as its athletic program is in a lot of debt.

About five months after Maryland announced it was leaving the ACC, the ACC announced a Grant of Rights deal that gave every team in the league a lot more stability, both financially and otherwise. And it added Louisville, which is a more than adequate on-field replacement for Maryland.

There’s no question that with the Big Ten network, Maryland will make more money in television contracts alone in its new league. But it’s still unclear how much more money that will be and how long it will take for those gains to be seen, considering the school still might have to pay the ACC’s $50 million exit fee (the two sides are fighting that out in court as we speak). It very well still could be the move that makes the most financial sense for Maryland in the long-term.

Also, Maryland often lamented that it felt like an outsider in the ACC, particularly before the league added Boston College (and later Pittsburgh and Syracuse). So much of what the ACC was about was focused on the Carolina schools, and in a lot of ways, that’s still true. But Maryland now departs this league for a league where most of the schools are located in the midwest, and the Terps will likely be outsiders yet again.

Regardless, Maryland — which plays Virginia in Super Regional action in what will assuredly be its final game against any member of the ACC in any capacity as a member of the ACC — is gone as of July 1.

Five of the original seven schools that founded the ACC remain (Virginia was added very shortly thereafter, so six of the eight, if you want to get technical). And while there has been some back-and-forth between Maryland fans and fans of other schools, it’s rooted in a place of love and sadness that the Terps will no longer be a part of the ACC, and a sense of betrayal on the part of ACC fans in general.

As much as the new ACC logo "leans hard into a brilliant future, yet honors the successful path that has led us to this day", fans of schools in this league — which is now 15 schools strong and more than double its original seven founding members — often fear change. Their schools have proud traditions and rich histories in both sports and academia, and many will be sad to see Maryland go. 

It’s almost as if the league is in the midst of a bitter breakup. Between court battles, interesting scheduling decisions for Maryland’s final year in the league and the cold shoulder most ACC schools are giving the Terps in terms of future scheduling, it’s still pretty icy.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils had a heated rivalry with Maryland for a few years there in the 2000’s, says he won’t schedule Maryland. A lot of other schools will likely follow suit there, particularly in basketball, where the Terps’ absence will be felt the most by traditionalists. 

The Terps heard chants of "A-C-C!" in every opposing building when they lost in the major sports, and fans often wanted their team to beat the Terps by as many points as possible, as if to send some message.

In every sport except track and field (which doesn’t really keep win-loss records) and gymnastics (which is in a different conference altogether) — so, 12 total — Maryland actually played just six of its final 12 regular-season games or matches on the road (football, men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, wrestling, field hockey and volleyball. And even more interestingly, Maryland won 11 of its final 12 regular-season contests in those sports.

While Maryland didn’t have either UNC or Duke visit the Comcast Center for the first time ever in its final year in the league, the Terps did close out its ACC regular season in style with a win over the ACC Champion Virginia at home.

But the programs in general didn’t have a ton of success, particularly in the revenue sports — Maryland made a bowl game in football with a 7-6 record but went 3-5 in the ACC and really struggled down the stretch. The basketball team was 17-15 and 9-9 in the league, losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

Oh, and if ACC fans want to commend anyone for supposedly sticking it to Maryland — for whatever that’s worth — it would be Notre Dame, who knocked Maryland out of the NCAA Tournament in three of the five sports Maryland made it in (men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer and women’s basketball), not to mention knocking the Terps out of the ACC Tournament in men’s lacrosse, too. I guess that would make up for Notre Dame not being a full league member?

Even as the ACC expanded ever northward, Maryland fans and the school in general still sometimes felt like they were outsiders in the league. Even with 15 members starting next year — four of which are located north of Virginia now, whereas Maryland used to be the only one — so much of what this league is about is centered around North Carolina.

It’s been like pulling teeth to move the ACC Tournament away from Greensboro (its longtime home) to Washington, D.C. and finally to Brooklyn in a few years. Maryland had to fight and scratch and claw just to get the ACC Tournament out of North Carolina even once.

Still, Maryland has almost always been a formidable ACC opponent in both the revenue and non-revenue sports. The revenue sports are the ones people care about, though.

Maryland football has a much richer tradition than most would realize, and it will leave the ACC with nine ACC titles and one national championship (in 1953). The Terps won the league title six times between 1974-85, and added one more for good measure in 2001. Maryland was actually the first team not named Florida State to win the ACC title since the Seminoles joined the league in 1991.

Maryland basketball is what most ACC fans will miss the most, even as the program has struggled in the last few years under head coach Mark Turgeon. But two of Maryland’s longest-standing coaches — Lefty Driesell (1969-86) and Gary Williams (1989-2011). Those two coached some of the best teams and players in ACC history, and while their success in basketball wasn’t as steady as a Duke or North Carolina, they were often just as formidable.

Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Len Bias — those were just a few of the great names who played under Driesell, not to mention his 1974 Terps being a part of arguably the greatest ACC Tournament game ever (and maybe the greatest college basketball game ever). 

Williams won Maryland’s only national championship in 2002. The Terps also stepped in and filled a void when North Carolina had a few down years in the early 2000’s and became Duke’s preeminent rival. Joe Smith, Steve Francis, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Greivis Vasquez — all great players and colorful characters that will live in the memories of ACC fans forever.

As the Maryland athletic department website itself has said, the fans and alumni will get used to being in the Big Ten eventually. Even though plenty of them weren’t (and still aren’t) pleased about the decision.The ACC’s Grant of Rights agreement should slow down conference realignment for awhile, and it’s too bad that it didn’t happen before Maryland made its fateful decision. Although, who knows? It might have happened anyway. Either way, both the ACC and eventually, Maryland will be just fine.

The Terps will rather unfortunately become a footnote in conference history, not unlike the way South Carolina did. Let’s hope they’re remembered more often and more fondly in the ACC’s annals than the Gamecocks. Many don’t even remember that South Carolina was ever in the ACC. Maryland, though, did make its time in the league pretty hard to forget.