COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland’s decision to stay in the Atlantic Coast Conference or join the Big Ten comes down to tradition versus money.
Given the plight of the school’s struggling athletic program, the Terrapins’ stature as a charter member of the ACC might not mean as much as the prospect of playing a home football game against, say, Ohio State, and being part of a league that generates more revenue.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet today to discuss the joining the Big Ten. If Maryland approves the move and applies for admission, Rutgers is expected to follow suit and leave the Big East. That would leave the Big Ten with 14 schools.
An announcement on Maryland’s final decision is expected this week, maybe as soon as today.
The addition of Maryland and Rutgers, located in New Brunswick, N.J., about 40 miles south of New York city, would give the Big Ten an added presence in the East – along with Penn State – and add two huge TV markets. Which explains in part why the Big Ten is courting Maryland and offering a fee to join, enough to at least partially offset the $50 million exit fee the ACC approved by vote in September after adding Notre Dame.
By leaving the ACC, Maryland would be breaking ties and rivalries with many schools it has competed against since 1953. There are few bigger college basketball games than Maryland vs. Duke, and Terrapins fans for decades have made up a decent portion of the crowd at the ACC basketball tournament.
Unfortunately, tradition doesn’t fill the football stadium on Saturdays. Maryland can’t sell out the luxury boxes at the newly renovated Tyser Tower inside Byrd Stadium, and only 35,244 fans showed up Saturday on senior day for a game against 10th-ranked Florida State.
Maryland lost to the Seminoles 41-14, its fifth straight defeat. The Terrapins (4-7) close out their second season under coach Randy Edsall at North Carolina next week, and he insisted Sunday that his attention was centered solely upon the present rather than the future of the program.
Asked his opinion of the potential move to the Big Ten, Edsall responded, “My whole focus is trying to clear things up from Florida State and getting ready for North Carolina. ... I’m just concentrating on North Carolina.”
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood had a similar response when asked about the reports during a Sunday teleconference with reporters.
“’’The best thing for me do to is not react to it,” he said.
Maryland’s six home games this season averaged 36,022 fans in a stadium that seats 54,000. Home matchups against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska would surely be sellouts. And, it is entirely possible that the school would consider expanding the on-campus stadium if it joins the Big Ten.
There’s also the matter of the Big Ten television contract, which is far more lucrative than the one the ACC has currently in place. The Big Ten network has also become a cash cow for the league since it started in 2007. According to a May report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Big Ten schools receive about $24.6 million in revenue from the conference this year. With two more major television markets in the conference’s footprint, that could go up.
Maryland this year cut seven sports programs because of budget concerns. Instead of merely surviving, the athletics department might even flourish if the Terrapins become part of the Big Ten.
But the prospective move would call for longer road trips. Instead of taking a bus trip to North Carolina for a basketball game against the Tar Heels, Maryland would be forced to fly to the Midwest, perhaps in a snowstorm. And while a visit from the Ohio State football team would be extremely interesting and unique, the curiosity factor would drop off considerably for a game against Minnesota or Iowa.
Those against the move cite tradition is the key factor. But university president Wallace D. Loh has no significant ties to the ACC. In fact, he came to Maryland in November 2010 after serving as the University of Iowa provost. Athletic director Kevin Anderson was hired in 2010 after a seven-year stint at Army.
Anderson did not respond to text messages from The Associated Press this weekend. It is likely, however, that the prospective move is being championed by Loh, who was slated to brief the Board of Regents on Sunday in advance of Monday’s session.
The 17-member Board of Regents governs the University System of Maryland. Appointed by the governor, the regents oversee the system’s academic, administrative and financial operations. It also formulates policy.