The University of Maryland football team capped off the home portion of its farewell season in the Atlantic Coast Conference Nov. 23, with a disappointing, 29-26 loss to Boston College. The attendance for the final ACC game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium was also on the disappointing side, with 32,147 making their way inside to witness the event. After one more road contest, and the Terrapins presumably being selected for a college bowl game later this year, the attention now turns toward Maryland's transition to the Big Ten conference for the 2014 season.
According to NCAA statistics, Maryland's season attendance for the six games played on campus totaled 233,269 -- for an average of 38,878. This placed the Terrapins 59th out of 124 Division I schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The NCAA does not record games played off campus or at neutral sites. Maryland's third home game was played at M&T Stadium in Baltimore versus West Virginia University. The attendance for that game was reported as 55,677, which, when added to the Terps' on-campus schedule, would push the season's combined total to 288,946.
Looking ahead to the Big Ten, how will attendance at Maryland home football games stack up? Not well -- next to last, actually.
As of Nov. 25, including the West Virginia game that was played in Baltimore, Maryland's total attendance would outrank two future Big Ten conference foes, Illinois and Northwestern. But those two teams will face each other at Illinois' home field in Champagne Ill., Nov. 30, and the attendance for the one game will shoot Illinois further up in the rankings, leaving only Northwestern, with a total home attendance of 275,147, behind Maryland.
During its inaugural year in the conference, Maryland's home attendance will surely see a bump upward, as a result of having Big Ten powerhouse teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa coming to Byrd Stadium during the fall of 2014. The school may anticipate those programs bringing a strong contingent of fans accompanying their teams, as well as tapping into the strong alumni base for Big Ten schools in the metro Washington, D.C., area, perhaps filling Byrd Stadium's capacity of 51,802 on a regular basis.
Maryland is already facing large deficits in the athletics department -- more than $21 million for 2012-13, according to a university report released in August -- and attendance at home football games will have to improve if athletic director Kevin Anderson has any hopes of closing the gap in that deficit. Reaching the stadium's capacity consistently could launch the Terrapins into the top 40 schools overall, in terms of total football attendance, surpassing current Big Ten institutions, Minnesota and Purdue.
On the verge of entering the Big Ten, the University of Maryland football program faces at least two steep hills ahead. One climb will be on the field, where opponents will be lining up to administer their version of a "Welcome to the Big Ten" message. The other steep slope will be on the business side, where repeatedly selling out the home games will be a requirement if Maryland wants to be taken seriously by their new conference partners.