Let's get one thing clear right from the start. I am aware that technically, all you need to be in order to be considered a Big Ten Team is to have Big Ten membership. If you check the standings and you find your institution's name under the Big Ten standings, and if your campus has B1G banners everywhere and your school website is tastefully branded with all things B1G, congrats, you are, in fact, a Big Ten Team. No matter of internet snark can take that away from you. By this metric, Maryland and Rutgers are, in fact, Big Ten teams.
But that's the cold, sterile, rule-based definition. By rule, we have the DH, downloading music on the internet is illegal, and stashing billions in some shady Cayman Island haven, safe from US Treasury Records, IS legal. Celebrating the rote rules are for Pharisees, corporate attorneys, and Darren Rovell, and we're not in that business. Whether Maryland is a Big Ten Team isn't an interesting question. Whether Maryland is a Big Ten Team, however, is.
There has been a lot of skepticism about this among many fans of other Big Ten Teams. After all, no amount of geographic flexibility can shoehorn College Park, Maryland into the Midwest. Maryland doesn't have a built in rival in the conference. They don't have the same history. Their uniforms are garish and unrefined when compared to the proper subtly and restraint of true Big Ten Teams, like Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State (nobody tell the Big Ten Team selection committee about anything Nebraska has done recently). In order to determine if this skepticism is enough to prevent Maryland from achieving true Big Ten status, we went to their inaugural Big Ten home game, against your Ohio State Buckeyes,
I walked down Adelphi road from my apartment to Byrd Stadium, which at capacity, seats around 52,000 Terrapin fans. Three hours before kickoff, the surroundings certainly had all the trappings of a Big Ten football game. It was early in the morning, people were throwing beanbags around parking lots, they were grilling encased meats while wearing red jerseys, and adult beverages were prepared and consumed. Nobody would confuse the scene for Columbus or State College, as even shortly before kickoff empty parking spaces could be found a short walk to the stadium, but the costumes and props were all correct. Change the color scheme around, and it certainly could have been the scene at Illinois or Minnesota.
As is the case for any football game, Ohio State fans were well represented. Based on my highly scientific sampling system of "walking up to people in Ohio State gear and talking to them," I met fans from all over Ohio, but also North Carolina, New York, Virginia, and all over the DC Metro area. I asked everybody what they thought about Maryland now being a Big Ten Team, and I was surprised by relatively positive answers. Sure, this tailgating scene was weak, they admitted, but we don't kick Northwestern out for being bad at outdoor cooking. Many fans relished the chance to see their team in an interesting city, and expressed optimism that Maryland would improve as a program soon. Most of them had also, of course, been drinking, so perhaps not everything would be admissible as expert testimony. Or maybe so, since this college football, after all.
Everybody was friendly. Nearly everybody offered me beverages, and everybody offered me food. Many took their sartorial options to the next level, like this fan. No Maryland fan had anything close to this, so perhaps this is a strike against them. Creative knit sweaters, of course, are exceptionally Big Ten.
Shut it down. I found the best sweater ever. pic.twitter.com/jght6ChJcb— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) October 4, 2014
But that doesn't mean that Maryland's fans were bereft of excellent tailgaters. Like this gentleman, named Brown, who proudly showed me his Maryland guitar, signed by Gary Williams, Steve Francis, and many other Maryland greats. Despite being 77, he plays the guitar at Maryland tailgates before the games. In the absence of an amazing marching band (a Big Ten must), one can create their own. This is Big Ten.
This guitar was signed by Gary Williams, Steve Francis, and other Maryland greats pic.twitter.com/0cW322dzDM— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) October 4, 2014
That guitar is played by this awesome guitar player. Today is his 77th birthday. pic.twitter.com/JtfrtaPHRf— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) October 4, 2014
Maryland's enthusiasm for arts and crafts also feels exceptionally culturally Big Ten.
Is Byrd Stadium a crown jewel of architecture compared to the rest of their conference brethren? No. It's relatively small, very concrete heavy, and feels a little like somebody slapped an expansion pack and a new paint job on a large suburban high school stadium. There may be lots of room for improvement, but it's perfectly functional now, and Maryland obviously has other financial priorities before undergoing any stadium enhancements. Tending over a large chunk of real estate that is in somewhat poor repair? Actually, that *does* feel pretty Big Ten.
While Maryland may lack in physical prowess, it isn't an unpleasant experience. In the press box, we were offered something called Big Ten Ice Cream, and in addition to the standard fare of pizza, burgers and hot dogs, beer-battered french fries were offered, along with a variety of crab related dishes, including a massive, pound-and-a-half cheese pretzel covered in crab meat. I didn't get a chance to buy one for myself (the line was HUGE at halftime), but I did get to sample it from another sportswriter, and it was every bit the decadent comfort food that you'd expect from a Wisconsin. A strong cheese related hustle will win you many friends, Maryland.
But what about the actual football team? Maryland struggled, falling behind 14-0 early, shooting themselves in the foot with a critical interception out of their own end zone as they attempted to make a comeback before halftime, and then obliterated whatever chances they had with turnovers and their inability to stop Ohio State's power rush game. The Terps had four turnovers, one returned for a touchdown and another two that nearly were. They were outgained 533-310, outrushed 269-66, and came out completely overmatched along the line of scrimmage, a foreboding sight, given the depth of strong defensive lines in the Big Ten East.
But does that mean they aren't Big Ten? I mean, Maryland's kicker boomed a 57 yarder, and could be one of the best in the country. That's Big Ten football. They try to make their living on special teams. That's Big Ten football. They beat a team earlier in the year, despite turning the ball over six times, thanks to a blocked punt. B1G sir. And just because they underperformed on a big stage when expectations were raised doesn't mean they aren't good enough for inclusion.
On the contrary, the sense of disappointment that comes from getting stomped on a sleepy noon kickoff is perhaps one of the most powerful shared experiences a Big Ten school could have. Maryland's team right now is just good enough to ruin a team's day and create a random box score, but not good enough to be a national threat. That's right in the conference's wheelhouse right now.
Maryland fans aren't as likely to shop at the Farm and Fleet as many other Big Ten fans. It isn't in the Midwest, they don't have any silly trophy games with great lakes institutions, and they don't have the running game that often goes hand and hand with the conference. But TV lucre aside, Maryland fans may be more spiritually Big Ten than we thought. If you're a big state school and you like to kick and eat things with cheese on them, you probably belong in the fraternity of the punt. Soon, we'll see Maryland losing 12-9 against some directional Michigan school at 1 PM, and then they will truly belong.
Jury's still out on you, Rutgers. But for now, Maryland fans, think B1G with pride.