Maryland saying goodbye to the ACC


Lefty Driesell has seen a few things in his 82 years on this planet, most of them spent on or near a basketball court.

The man more or less invented Midnight Madness. Now the preseason showcase not only has devolved into a glorified pickup game, it's not even held at midnight anymore.

So not much surprises him, or if it does, he has learned to take it all in stride.

On Sunday afternoon, Maryland, the school that employed him for some 17 years, will play its last regular-season game in the ACC, taking on conference winner Virginia, putting to bed a 61-year run in the conference. Next up, the Big Ten.

It's a head-scratcher, for sure, to someone like Driesell, who not only coached at Maryland but played at Duke. He was in Durham when the league debuted, part of the Blue Devils' 1954 roster, and he plans to be there Sunday when Maryland departs.

"I think it's a bad decision, but I heard [ESPN analyst and former Duke player] Jay Bilas say on TV the other day, 'Any businessman in the world would have taken the deal,'" Driesell said. "I guess that's my problem. I don't think college athletics is a business, or it shouldn't be, anyway. It's a sport that's turned into a business. So I guess I'm not upset. I'm not sad. Sad would mean I'd cry. I won't cry. But I am disappointed.''

That's the general consensus among fans as the end draws near -- disappointment has replaced anger, acceptance has taken over for frustration.

"At first, truly people were surprised,'' Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "You look at the long-standing history and the fact that change is challenging for everybody. Looking back, even beyond the Lefty years, to the tremendous [1974] game against [NC State and] David Thompson with Len Elmore and you think, 'Those things won't be anymore and that's hard.' But as we move forward to the transition into the Big Ten, it seems more and more people are excited about it.''

Plus it's just hard to get in a lather about these things anymore because they keep happening. Conference divorces are about as common as Hollywood splits, and so if we haven't come to enjoy them, we've at least become numb to them.

Syracuse left the Big East and the world kept spinning. Nebraska joined the Big Ten and lived to tell about it.

Maryland feels a little different because of its history. Like Syracuse, it is a founding conference member, but this foundation was built long before the Big East was a twinkle in Dave Gavitt's eye.

Sixty-one years is an awful lot of water under the bridge.

This is almost like two long-married octogenarians suddenly deciding they need to see other people.

"My immediate reaction was, 'What are we doing this for?'" former coach Gary Williams said. "But then I wasn't really aware of the situation.''

The situation, of course, is money.

The Maryland administration, at least, has been plain-faced in its rationale, not trying to hide behind insincere arguments of better academics and the greater good of all student-athletes (because, no doubt, the annually top-ranked men's and women's lacrosse teams are really going to benefit from this).

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