There was an Internet firestorm today after coach Randy Edsall announced linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield would be the fifth member of the Terrapins football team to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Fans took to Twitter to blame everything from the training staff to the new turf field to Under Armour’s equipment. Conspiracy theorists flooded message boards with crackpot ideas ranging from the existence of an “Angry Maryland Quarterback-Hating God” to a change in the gravitational pull around College Park. Some even suggested Edsall hadn’t mentally prepared his team well enough to avoid injuries.
For everyone who shares these opinions, I have one pressing question: Are you serious?
Do you really believe the team’s strength and conditioning staff has simply neglected to train its players for one of the most common injuries in football? Doesn’t God have better things to do than ruin the Terps’ season? And can you honestly blame a torn ligament on a lack of mental preparedness?
Of course you can’t. Every Terps-centric argument and theory littering the Web is ludicrous.
The Terps’ training staff is receiving a lot of flak for its alleged role in “ACLmageddon.” People are suggesting the staff is doing something wrong, that they’re not training their their players’ ACLs properly.
But according to Tim Hewett, a sports medicine professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, these accusations have no basis in reality. He said contact ACL injuries are completely unavoidable, and recent studies show there’s no proven link between training methods and ligament strength.
Sure, you could make the argument the players aren’t training the right way. After all, more than 70 percent of the NFL’s ACL injuries are of the noncontact variety according to Hewett, a number that’s probably not too different in the college ranks. But Hartsfield and quarterbacks Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe were hurt after colliding with opposing players. No stretch could have saved them.
A different playing surface couldn’t have saved them either. The Terps’ new FieldTurf can’t be held accountable for what happens in the normal course of a football game. Players get hurt. It happens. Blame opposing defenders for injuries, not the ground they happen to be playing on.
Yes, ACL injuries are about 63 percent more likely to occur on field turf than grass, according to Hewett. But if Capital One Field is such a dangerous place, why aren’t the training rooms of the Terps’ home opponents filled with players rehabbing torn ACLs?
And don’t blame Under Armour. The apparel company has long been one of the Terps’ biggest allies, outfitting their teams with some of the most talked-about uniforms in the nation. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank graduated from this university. There’s no way he would do anything to harm his signature school.
Still, there have been rumblings that their equipment could be at fault here. One person even suggested Hills’ injury could have been avoided if he was simply wearing a different pair of cleats.
Take a cursory glance at the hit Hills endured against N.C. State, though, and it’s easy to see how far from the truth that is. Wolfpack linebacker Rickey Dowdy blindsided Hills after a second-quarter interception, spearing him — illegally — in the back and sending him sprawling to the turf. It wouldn’t have mattered if Hills was wearing plushy slippers and standing on a cloud of rainbows; he was tearing an ACL on that play, no matter what.
Terps defensive end A.J. Francis agrees. He heard the accusations and conspiracies, and he fought back. He reiterated that quarterback Devin Burns and wide receiver Marcus Leak were being tackled when they suffered their season-ending injuries, blamed Brown’s injury on little more than bad luck and called the notion of anything otherwise idiotic and insulting.
“Football is violent… Ppl get injured… It happens,” Francis tweeted yesterday. “Coaches, Strength & Conditioning, Turf Field, none of that has anything to do with it.”
Francis gets it. These injuries aren’t a result of coaches’ incompetency. They aren’t a result of faulty turf or equipment. And they aren’t a result of a higher power’s weird obsession with making the Terps suffer.
They’re simply a result of this season’s unending misfortune.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the number of Terps out for the season with ACL injuries was stated incorrectly. They have four players out for the season with torn ACLs.