Friday, February 10, 2006

The non-rivalry

When the 12-team ACC created an unbalanced league schedule, Duke was assigned two rivals they would play twice every regular season: UNC and Maryland. The first is a no-brainer: Duke-Carolina is the nation's most perfect rivalry. Big-time sports. City-level proximity. Conference implications. Profound, historic hatred. Dual dominance. There are other good rivalries, but none like this. (Aside from Carolina-N.C. State, UCLA-USC comes closest.)

The second is more curious. Maryland? Over N.C. State and Wake Forest? This decision was likely influenced not by history, but current trends: the recent volatility of Duke-Maryland games, and the seniority of its two coaches.

Sure, the games are intense, and Maryland has certainly replaced Michigan as the most buzzworthy non-Carolina opponent at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But this intensity is asymmetric. Maryland players and fans gear up for Duke in a way that Duke players and fans don't prepare for Maryland. This is because of a simple truth: Duke-Maryland is not a true rivalry. Here's why Maryland thinks it is.

1. Geography. Maryland lacks a natural in-state rival. Sure, there's Navy, but their rival is Army, for reasons much larger than basketball, or even sports.

2. Old feuds. You would think Maryland-Georgetown would make a good area rivalry. But for whatever reason -- feuds between former coaches, ticket allocation, needless non-conference stress -- it hasn't happened yet.

3. Conference expansion. Maryland's closest league rival is Virginia. But then the ACC gave Virginia an in-state rival in Virginia Tech. Maryland gets... Boston College? I don't think so.

So why Duke? They've been atop the ACC for quite some time, and Maryland targeted them just like every other ACC team. But unlike the others, Maryland broke through around the turn of the century and got under Duke's skin. How? Three more reasons:

4. Media attention. With Georgetown in a down period, Maryland monopolized the DC market, which helped it garner national significance and a recruiting edge. This way the ACC headlines needn't focus exclusively on Duke and Carolina.

5. Obnoxious fans. This is a widespread problem in sports -- even Cameron Crazies let their cleverness lead to impropriety -- but Terrapin fans are a singular breed of nasty. I don't know when it started, but it's very effective now.

6. Success. Clearly, this is the most important factor. Maryland reached the Final Four in 2001 and won a title in 2002, becoming the first ACC team outside of the Triangle area to do so.

All of this just makes Maryland a formidable conference opponent, not a true rival. It would be hard to claim the Maryland-Duke series would be the same in a different era with different coaches. There's just no historical context. Seems to me that Maryland has an inferiority complex by being so far away from Tobacco Road, and just happens to be directing its aggression at Duke right now. But times will change. The ACC schedulers should pay attention.

55 Fiction Friday won't be taking any trips to College Park.

Delilah and I live on a budget. She sends me off to my job
at the coroner's office, packing my lunchbox with grape jelly
sandwiches and a Thermos of wine. She's handy with scissors,
so haircuts are free.

But we have intimacy problems. I still desire her, but I just don't
have the energy anymore.


Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Every Carolina and Duke fan I know HATES that Maryland thinks it has some sort of rivalry going with Duke. Even when Carolina has sucked (Matt Dougherty, I'm looking in your direction), Duke still hasn't cared about the Maryland game in the way it cares about the Carolina game. That's the beauty of a true rivalry.

bluedevilyn said...

^^Yep, what she said.^^

I think nasty is an understatement when referring to Terp fans. I realize that the Cameron Crazies have done some things that don't make the Duke fan base look too good, but I think they are pretty trivial in comparison to Maryland.

What's funny is that there seems to be a dislike for Maryland from pretty much all directions, but they still don't have a true rival.

Quinn said...

As for the nasty fans, it is said that at Cameron, we throw insults at you. At Maryland, they throw batteries at you. Once again, a bit of an imbalance.

(ps. Man, I hate Maryland! Frickin' Caner-Medley.)