As U-Md. cam­pus reels, stu­dents face tough call

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RO­MAN STUBBS AND FAIZ SIDDIQUI

There were no re­main­ing traces of DJ Durkin at Mary­land Sta­dium on Satur­day morn­ing, save for his bi­og­ra­phy on the pages of the pro­grams sold be­fore the Ter­rap­ins’ game against Michi­gan State. Just four days ear­lier, Durkin was back on cam­pus in Col­lege Park, re­in­stated as Mary­land’s foot­ball coach af­ter 80 days on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

The next night, Durkin was told to leave the foot­ball field and the fa­cil­ity that shad­ows it, fired af­ter two sea­sons in the wake of the death of of­fen­sive line­man Jor­dan Mc­Nair and al­le­ga­tions of abuse in his pro­gram.

On Satur­day morn­ing, all that re­mained af­ter Durkin’s stun­ning de­par­ture was a group of play­ers bound to­gether by tragedy and a fan base frac­tured by one of the most tur­bu­lent pe­ri­ods in the school’s his­tory. For Mary­land stu­dents, Durkin’s re­ten­tion and fir­ing led to a com­pli­cated ques­tion: At­tend the game to sup­port Mary­land ath­let­ics or hold out in honor of Mc­Nair and his fam­ily?

Stu­dents said the de­ci­sion to keep Durkin on board, fol­lowed

by its re­ver­sal, fur­ther eroded trust in the in­sti­tu­tion. So much un­cer­tainty still lingers on cam­pus — in­clud­ing the sta­tus of Pres­i­dent Wal­lace D. Loh, who has an­nounced his re­tire­ment, and Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Da­mon Evans, who has re­tained his job. Two trainers, Wes Robin­son and Steve Nord­wall, re­main on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

And no­body knows who will coach Mary­land’s foot­ball team af­ter the sea­son is over.

“I feel like a lot of peo­ple aren’t trust­ing of the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said fresh­man An­jali Kalra, 18, who was on her way to the game around noon. “They feel like they sweep a lot un­der the rug and then tell us months later.”

Two other 18-year-old Mary­land stu­dents, Madi Don­ahue and Chloe Gold­berg, said the Durkin de­ci­sion added com­pli­ca­tion to an ex­haust­ing few months.

“I think peo­ple are just ex­as­per­ated,” Gold­berg said.

Don­ahue said she ques­tioned whether to at­tend the game.

“I was get­ting CNN alerts the other day,” Don­ahue said, adding that fam­ily and friends checked in amid the cam­pus tur­moil. “My friends have been tex­ting me.”

This scene, at least in the stands, did not feel all that dif­fer­ent from other times Big Ten pow­er­houses have vis­ited Mary­land since the Terps joined the con­fer­ence in 2014. A week af­ter a sea­son-low 30,387 fans showed up for a game against Illi­nois, there were 31,735 in at­ten­dance Satur­day. Large swaths of Michi­gan State fans filled the stands, which may have masked any po­ten­tial drop in at­ten­dance re­lated to this week’s con­tro­versy.

The pro­gram has had the third-low­est at­ten­dance in the Big Ten each of the past three sea­sons. A year ago, it was ahead of only Illi­nois and North­west­ern. Mary­land Sta­dium’s 54,000 seats were filled to just 76.5 per­cent ca­pac­ity in 2017, a number bol­stered by vis­its from the mas­sive fan bases of Michi­gan and Penn State for the fi­nal two home games.

Mary­land se­nior Vince Cic­cone, 21, said it seemed as if the ad­min­is­tra­tion was blinded by the driv­ing forces of col­lege foot­ball — namely, rev­enue — rather than mak­ing the right de­ci­sion from the out­set.

“Fir­ing Durkin, it was re­ally not that hard,” he said. “It just shows that these were sim­ple that should have been made im­me­di­ately . . . . Pol­i­tics get in the way.”

The fall­out from the scan­dal surely car­ries sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions for the school, in­clud­ing donors who might opt to pull fund­ing and sea­son ticket hold­ers who could drop their sup­port. But there were also long­time sea­son ticket hold­ers who felt gal­va­nized Satur­day, in­clud­ing 62-year-old Mark Mur­phy, who lives in Chicago but still at­tends ev­ery home game.

Mur­phy flew in Satur­day morn­ing and felt an up­beat vibe from fans as he made his way to the sta­dium.

“Like you’ve cleansed it a lit­tle bit. But you still have work to do,” Mur­phy said. “I think peo­ple rec­og­nize that Mary­land is larg- er than any one in­di­vid­ual. And all of us have this deeply held be­lief that if we could ever get folks on the same page, you can win here.”

There were other sea­son ticket hold­ers work­ing to ramp up sup­port for the pro­gram in the wake of this week’s events, in­clud­ing 40-year-old Ben Page, a Mary­land grad­u­ate whose non­profit, Old Line Tail­gat­ing Club, has brought hun­dreds of youths to Mary­land games this sea­son.

“Ul­ti­mately, all de­ci­sions be­ing made mov­ing for­ward should be about those 100 kids on the field,” he said. “Not about the money, not about the ad­min­is­tra­tion, not about sav­ing your own job. It should be about the well-be­ing of those kids.”

Mur­phy said he is still con­cerned about the lack of stu­dent sup­port for the foot­ball pro­gram, which was again ev­i­dent at half­time, when hun­dreds of stu­dents left. About an hour be­fore, they had stood in the bleach­ers to watch the Ter­rap­ins play­ers run out of the tun­nel and kneel to pray around Mc­Nair’s No. 79 logo painted on the field. Stu­dents looked on, mostly in si­lence.

In the wake of Durkin’s fir­ing, stu­dents held a rally in sup­port of Mc­Nair and stu­dent-ath­letes. But there were du­el­ing fac­tions over whether to at­tend Satur­day’s game, said fresh­man Joseph Weil, who de­cided to show up.

The stu­dent body, Weil said, just doesn’t agree on whether to at­tend games. But they did seem to find some com­mon ground.

“I think ev­ery­one agrees it was han­dled in­cor­rectly,” he said.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The an­nounced at­ten­dance at Mary­land Sta­dium on Satur­day was 31,735, but the crowd had thinned con­sid­er­ably by the fourth quar­ter.

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