Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 2 Maryland.
Remember in 2017, when Maryland president Wallace Loh said, “as president I sit over a number of dormant volcanoes”? Or maybe you remember what he said right after, that he “would think” UNC’s academic scandal over some fake classes “would lead to the implementation of the death penalty by the NCAA.” I wonder where that guy went, because in the time since—you know, that time period in which a Maryland workout killed Jordan McNair—I haven’t heard one thing about using the death penalty out of Loh. Weird.
Maryland should not field a football team this year, plain and simple. The Terrapins should be forced to start over and clean house of every coach and trainer on staff; the current players should be allowed to transfer and play immediately, or have the option of retaining their scholarship while the athletic department figures its shit out. But, of course, that will not be what happens.
Maryland accepted legal responsibility, because no shit, it ultimately was going to be their legal responsibility one way or the other; in the same breath, the president blamed the training staff for McNair’s death. Never mind that currently suspended head coach D.J. Durkin literally said the words, “the heat makes cowards out of us all,” to a reporter in the last two years and then proceeded to have the strength coach he hired, Rick Court, run a practice in which McNair suffered a heat stroke and died two weeks later. We’ll also breeze over the fact that campus police were the first ones to call McNair’s parents, as well the fact that Loh admitted he didn’t talk to the parents until August, two months after McNair died. The athletic department has been described as a “dysfunctional viper pit,” and the football training culture as “toxic.” Zack Bolno, the athletic department’s main spokesperson, was so ready to say fuck this that he bolted from his job at a Big Ten program to go to George Mason.
All that isn’t even the worst part, mainly because the in-house reactions at Maryland are precisely what one has come to expect from the big business that is college football and college athletics; every actually serious scandal in college athletics, and really in college in general, is just committee’d to death. The worst part is McNair’s death is being treated by some folks in the media like any other inane scandal, like this was Hugh Freeze trying to get his dick wet on recruiting trips. It’s frustratingly easy to fall into this pattern, to believe that your duty as a reporter is to cover this event just like any other offseason scandal or big injury or coaching change, to fall into the cyclical nature of the beat’s schedule.
That’s how you get bullshit puff pieces like this USA Today article by Kevin Allen headlined “Playing football a welcome distraction for Maryland players still grieving Jordan McNair” that proceeds to quote zero players. Look at the lead:
It’s commonplace for college football coaches to fret about outside distractions undermining focus on the season.
That lede has been written a million times by a million beat writers, but you do indeed have to hand it to Kevin: I know “outside distractions” has been used to fill in for “sexual assault” or “drunk driving” hundreds of times, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it deployed to cover, “a death of a player at the hands of an unnecessarily intense spring workout.” Always be innovating.
The folks actually inhabiting college football have moved on with the Terps hand-in-hand, rolling out all the normal performative actions to shift your eyes back to the field.
The Terrapins have already made steps toward showing how committed they are to “honoring” McNair by doing the usual bullshit, throwing a scholarship and a fucking helmet sticker at the problem. Oh, they also threw together a commission meant to look at the culture of the football program that included Trump-loving former governor Bob Ehrlich, ESPN sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein (because she went to Maryland??), Washington NFL team shadow president Doug Williams, and Tom McMillen, a man that represents a group of athletic directors, the exact opposite kind of person you want when looking into why your athletes were failed by athletic department leaders.
The rest of college football’s coaches and ADs, meanwhile, are either scared shitless to talk about it and revert to bland lines about “our commitment to player safety,” or are complete and total dickheads looking only to cover their own hardass-with-no-title-having-asses, like Will Muschamp and Jim Harbaugh.
I want to do like I did with Ohio State and Michigan State and tell you begrudgingly that there’s football to get to, but in this case, there really truly should not be. None of these players should be suiting up for interim head coach Matt Canada or anyone else that formerly worked under Durkin. But they can’t sit out, or strike, or transfer, because then they’re throwing away a precious year of eligibility, and though they’re at Maryland, this is a still a Big Ten program with NFL hopefuls dotting the roster. It is not healthy, football at Maryland is not a “welcome distraction,” it is a proven danger and none of these players should be forced to play for the Terrapins. They should all be free to go elsewhere.