I spent some time yesterday morning reading about Len Bias, the most (in)famous player in the history of Maryland basketball. I was thinking about Lefty Driesell, and Buck Williams, and Albert King, and Walt “The Wizard” Williams, and if you don’t know who those people are you’re helping to prove a point massing here and illustrated thus:
After UNC beat Maryland, 75-63, in one of the more boring games I’ve attended in quite some time (over, in retrospect, after the Tar Heels raced out to an early 19-3 lead), Carolina head coach gave his five minutes to the media, looking quite ready to get out of there as quickly as possible, i.e. he was folding up and pocketing his stat sheet even as he was giving his final answer to a question, which if I recall was about his latest dizzy spell. Jokes were made, Roy was in fine fettle—why wouldn’t he be, after his left-for-dead team won its fourth straight game?—and just seconds after he departed, in came Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. Turgeon happens to be one of Williams’ former assistants at Kansas, and Maryland was playing its last game in Chapel Hill as a (charter!) member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. So there was plenty to ask him about beyond the game itself.
But college sports, big-time as they have grown, are really still very provincial and myopic. Nearly the entire press contingent stampeded out of the media room to go into the UNC locker room and interview the players. Turgeon quipped, “Where you guys going?” This got neither the laughter it was intended to get nor the decision to (come to think of it) stay and listen to him on the part of the Tar Heel media faithful.
I stayed behind. I was curious to hear what Turgeon might have on his mind, generally more piqued as I am by grownup head coaches than by the musings of 19-year-olds. Maryland’s departure from the ACC is historic, far more so (I think) than the arrival of Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and the other schools that will inevitably join in the current musical chairs that is college athletics. But Turgeon didn’t have much on his mind, either. There wasn’t all that much to say about the game, and it was pretty clear that while some of us had Len Bias on our minds, most of Terrapin Station has moved on without much reflection. Turgeon is a pretty new coach in this program, and his attachment to the ACC is rrelatively short and vestigial. What does he care, really, about Maryland’s emigration from the ACC to the Big Ten, and why should he? When he asked “Where you guys going?” with a sort of casual, jocular sneer, we could have asked Maryland where they were going in the same breezy, later-skater tone.
It’s remarkable that the ACC retained so many of its bedrock schools as long as it did. And it’s pointless to mourn the loss of Maryland or any other school that may move on. With the NCAA struggling to hold itself together, why should its constituent leagues do any differently? Last night’s game was appropriately uneventful in light of the non-event that is Maryland going midwestward-ho. Certainly the electric, instant-classic Syracuse-Duke game in the Carrier Dome over the weekend made it quite clear that great rivalries can arise ex nihilo out of sheer competitive excellence. They don’t require decades of ballast. Let’s all move on.
There are many, many reminders that college athletics walk a very uncomfortable line between grownups and kids, pros and amateurs. The handful of reporters who stayed behind to listen to Turgeon talk last night were mostly students from (presumably) the University of Maryland’s campus newspaper—it’s not just “student-athletes” getting a sports education here, it’s student-reporters (and student-cheerleaders, student-interns and so on). There’s a whole set of auxiliary industries being dragged along with this great unwieldy NCAA ship.
One of the cub reporters asked Turgeon a question about why, given how much the referees were blowing their whistles last night, the Terrapins didn’t put more focus on driving the ball to the basket against North Carolina in order to draw fouls and get to the free throw line more. Turgeon fixed the kid with a withering glare and replied, “We were going to the basket. We were driving. You might want to watch the film.” You know, like we do, kid.
Seconds later, Turgeon’s four media minutes ended, and the disabused kid reporter and his small cohort got up, as did Turgeon. When the little cloud of junior journalists before me dispersed, Turgeon was already gone—like Maryland itself, vanished from the ACC in an unceremonious puff of amateur indifference. Where you guys going?
As for UNC, where nnn