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View from the 'ville
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

By Al Myatt

The bottom line is the bottom line

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The financial considerations that drive the football bowl selection process gave Maryland a punt in the pants as the Terps were relegated to the Military Bowl in nearby Washington, DC.

Programs and their fan bases traditionally think in terms of trips in the postseason, often to warmer tourist areas. Maryland's relative lack of fan support has the Terps headed to RFK Stadium, just 10 miles from campus in College Park, MD, to meet East Carolina on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 2:30 p.m.

Maryland averaged 39,165 in home attendance in 2010. That figure was ninth in the ACC and ranked 64th among the 120 teams in the football bowl subdivision. ECU, incidentally, averaged 49,665 at its home games, which was first in Conference USA and 44th nationally. Fan support apparently is the factor that resulted in some teams in the ACC with poorer records being chosen over the Terps for more desirable postseason destinations.

N.C. State lost to Maryland 38-31 on Nov. 27. The Wolfpack and the Terps finished 8-4 overall and 5-3 in league play. The ACC allows its bowl affiliates to pick a team that is one game below another team in the conference standings in its bowl selection process. One by one, the Terps were snubbed by the bowls with slots for ACC teams. The Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando chose State to play West Virginia.

Miami (7-5, 5-3 ACC) is going to the Sun Bowl in El Paso to face Notre Dame. North Carolina (7-5, 4-4) leapfrogged the Terps for a berth in the Music City Bowl in Nashville to take on Tennessee.

Clemson (6-6, 4-4) is going to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte to take on Skip Holtz's South Florida team. Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4) is matched up with Air Force in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA.

After finishing in a three-way tie for third in the overall ACC standings behind champion Virginia Tech (Orange Bowl vs. Stanford) and Florida State (Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. South Carolina), the Terps fell all the way to eighth in the league's selection process and into the waiting arms of the former Eagle Bank Bowl. The third-year D.C. bowl was delighted to have a local team available.

A 30-16 loss to Florida State on Nov. 20 wound up being doubly devastating to the Terps. Not only did it deny Maryland a shot at the ACC championship as Atlantic Division winner but it kept the Terps from having a bowl trip in the traditional sense. The ACC division winners can go no lower than fourth in the league's bowl selection process.

First-year Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson has found out a lot about the league's bowl selection intricacies in the last week. The end result is that the Terps will be home for the holidays. It's probably fair to say that they were hoping for something that involved a plane ride, considering the other possibilities that were out there for a program that improved from 2-10 in 2009 to 8-4 in 2010 and earned Ralph Friedgen recognition as ACC coach of the year.

"We're not disappointed with the Military Bowl," Friedgen said Tuesday. "I mean they picked us. A lot of people didn't pick us. That's the people we've got issues with. We're very happy to be here."

Friedgen said Steve Beck, executive director of the Military Bowl, met with Maryland players on Monday.

"I feel better about our kids right now," said the Terps coach. "I think there was an immediate reaction. Steve came out yesterday and I think that helped — just talking to them and letting them understand that we can be a part of something special here, the first annual Military Bowl. If the time they have here is an enjoyable one and a productive one, I think it will really resonate throughout the country what we can have here."

Friedgen said that Maryland has traveled well to bowls in the past and the Military Bowl was an opportunity to show the bowls that didn't pick the Terps that Maryland fans do support the program in bowl games.

"If we really care about our football program, our fans need to show up," Friedgen said.

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was positive about the convenience of the D.C. site for Pirate fans. He would like to have been going to the Liberty Bowl as Conference USA champion but sees the upside to the Military Bowl.

"To have a bowl game within driving distance of our fans and family is unique," he said. "My dad was not only a coach but he was military. To be a part of that is quite an honor."

C-USA has its potential contradictions in its bowl selection process also. The league champion traditionally goes to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis but C-USA's most appealing bowl tie is undoubtedly the Hawaii Bowl.

The bottom line in the current structure of the bowl subdivision is that a program's fans can influence their team's postseason destination though their support in terms of attendance. Maryland apparently didn't have the perceived impact at the gate to get a better bowl trip than the bus ride to RFK.

ECU fans, in contrast, have gone above and beyond in their support. The enclosure of the East end of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium resulted in new home attendance records for the Pirates this season and makes the ECU program one of the most desirable for postseason travel in C-USA.

Bowl officials noted Wednesday that the Pirates' team hotel in D.C. has already sold out. They also stated that each team has an allotment of 10,000 tickets for the Military Bowl. An additional 5,000 tickets have been designated for military personnel and 2,500 have been set aside for area youth. RFK's capacity is about 47,000.

Memories of RFK

Friedgen and McNeill, who have the distinction of coaching at their alma maters, said they have not played or coached in RFK Stadium, former home to the Washington Redskins, but each have memories of the historic venue, which is approaching its 50th anniversary. The stadium opened as District of Columbia Stadium in October of 1961 and was renamed for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in January of 1969 after his assassination.

The stadium also has been home to major league baseball. The Washington Senators played there from 1961 to 1972 and the Washington Nationals from 2005 to 2007. RFK has been a venue for World Cup soccer, Olympic events and pro soccer. Entertainers such as the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Bruce Springsteen have performed there.

"When I was a student (at Maryland) before (coach) Vince Lombardi came to the Redskins, we could wear our letter jackets and go to the Redskin games on Sunday," Friedgen recalled. "Vince came in and stopped that. I love Vince Lombardi, don't get me wrong, but I also liked going to the Redskins' games. ... I know how the stands used to shake."

Friedgen said his dad also was a coach and that he used to go to New York Giants games when he was growing up.

"Or the New York Titans," said the Terps coach. "I don't want to date myself but that was before they became the Jets. When I went to college and we had that opportunity (to see the Redskins), I took advantage of it as well as a lot of our other players. That's the memories I have of RFK."

McNeill grew up in a television market that showed a lot of Redskins games.

"I've just watched from afar," said the Lumberton native. "Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann, John Riggins and those guys. Charley Taylor and those guys catching it."

Less hectic bowl experience

As controversy swirled last season around Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and his alleged mistreatment of receiver Adam James, McNeill was thrust into the responsibility of interim head coach of the Red Raiders in the Alamo Bowl against Michigan State.

McNeill will have more time to organize and prepare his team for this year's bowl game.

"It was a situation where 30 minutes before our first team meeting at the bowl site, I was told I would be the interim coach," McNeill said. "I was told Jan. 21, I would be able to lead this team so that part is a little bit different. It's been great to lead East Carolina."

McNeill made the transition to interim head coach successfully with a 41-31 win over the Spartans.

McNeill commented on the biggest difference between being a coordinator and a head coach.

"As a coordinator, you could go in a room and close the door and study film of an opponent all day," he said. "As a head coach, you have to be more accessible but I enjoy it."

Injury report

McNeill said he didn't expect to get injured defensive personnel Michael Brooks, Justin Dixon or Marke Powell back for the bowl game.

He was happy though that the Pirates got a post-Christmas bowl date that will allow quarterback Dominique Davis more recovery time for a bruised left shoulder sustained Nov. 11 at UAB.

Maryland defensive back Dexter McDougle will miss the Military Bowl after breaking a clavicle while on a scooter ride with a teammate on campus. McDougle had 22 tackles in 11 games. The Terps had already lost offensive lineman Pete DeSouza, who broke both his legs in a scooter mishap.

"I don't think I have the authority to tell the kids they can't ride scooters," Friedgen said. "But I've written a letter to parents asking for their support. Some of them have already said they are going to take the scooters away."

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01/20/2011 01:56 AM


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