Maryland students react to move to Big Ten


News of Maryland’s move to the Big Ten traveled quickly on campus — from the rumors off news reports Friday night to the official announcement on Monday. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
November 19, 2012

As University of Maryland students and fans celebrated the basketball team’s victory on Friday night, rumors began to swirl on Twitter that the university might soon join the Big Ten Conference. By Monday morning, the move was official — and students tried to sort through what the sudden news meant for them.

“It was just a rumor and then — bam! — the next business day, it’s done,” said Abby Bjork, 20, a junior English major from Towson. “It was just a really sudden announcement.”

There are a few things that students already know for sure: Starting in 2014, the Terps will no longer regularly play their favorite basketball rival, Duke, a matchup that once inspired students to riot on Route 1. They will have to learn a new slate of teams, along with their reputations, mascots and colors. And they will have to drive farther to attend away games.

Then there are the things that have been promised to them: More football games will be nationally televised, and the higher-profile conference could attract more fans to the university’s currently poorly attended games. Being in the Big Ten also likely will lead to new academic partnerships. And the deal could bring more money to the school’s struggling athletic department, which Maryland officials hope will allow them to reinstate some of the seven sports they cut earlier this year and better support other programs.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re in survival mode trying to maintain a certain level of success where it felt like a full-time fundraiser at times, and it starts to wear you out,” said Sasho Cirovski, the men’s soccer coach who has been at the university for two decades. “Now with additional resources, we can hopefully increase the quality of the student-athlete experience and provide much-needed help in areas.”

But there are a lot of unknowns about bidding farewell to the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league that Maryland helped charter in 1953, a partnership that existed for three times longer than most of the school’s current students have been alive.

The result: Lots of confusion and frustration.

“My parents went here and now I go here, and it has always been the ACC,” said Erin Rhode, 21, a senior civil engineering major who was wearing a Ravens jersey. “All of those rivals that we have had and those teams we have played are gone. And now we are going to play a bunch of teams in the Midwest.”

And then Rhode posed this tough question: “Why are we going to leave the ACC, where we can barely beat anyone, and go to the Big Ten, where the teams are even better?”

Throughout the weekend and on Monday, Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with angry rants — along with some jabs at the Midwesterness of the Big Ten.

“No one is going to want to come see the University of Minnesota play,” said Ryan Largent, 21, a senior government and politics major who is in the marching band.

But a lot of students, while lamenting changing a tradition, concluded that maybe it won’t be so bad. The student government’s top leaders released a letter early Monday morning supporting the university’s application for the Big Ten.

“Although we mourn the traditions that would inevitably be lost, joining the Big Ten would fundamentally transform our university for the better,” the Student Government Association Executive Board wrote.

And maybe this is the break that some of Maryland’s athletic teams need to succeed, said Fuad Hassan, a sophomore who has been thinking back on the Terps’ frequent losses at the hands of UNC and Duke on the basketball court.

“We’re always in the middle of the pack,” said Hassan, 19. “Now I feel like we have a chance in the Big Ten.”

And this move isn’t just about athletics, Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said at a press conference on Monday afternoon, flanked by a group of coaches and staff members. Loh said the new conference will bring the university more money — and more academic perks.

For several decades, Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago have teamed up on academic matters through what is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, or the CIC.

To be sure, the ACC also has an academic partnership. And there is no evidence that a conference switch will prevent Maryland scholars in coming years from working with counterparts at Duke, North Carolina or other ACC schools.

Ellen Weissinger, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska, which recently left the Big 12 to join the Big Ten, said the consortium is a formidable academic partnership unlike any she has seen in higher education.

Member schools pool resources on purchasing, information technology, library collections, overseas study and specialized undergraduate courses.

Certain fees are waived for doctoral candidates at a given member school who pursue research at another member school.

“It’s really powerful,” Weissinger said. The CIC, she said, represents “a very deliberate default toward collaboration and cooperation whenever possible.”

But the move hits the athletic department hardest. Student athletes were forbidden to talk with reporters, and coaches who spoke after the news conference put a positive spin on the startling news.

Even John Tillman, who coaches the men’s lacrosse team, said repeatedly that the move will enhance the experiences of his players — even though only three Big Ten schools compete in varsity men’s lacrosse, and it’s unclear what will happen to the Maryland team.

Meanwhile, Tillman’s phone filled with a litany of messages. Soon after the news conference, Tillman was overheard telling a couple school officials: “Man, my phone has been blowing up all day with recruit after recruit after recruit.”

Tillman said he spoke with his current players during a Monday morning workout, before the move was announced. Many players won’t be impacted, as they will graduate before 2014. For the rest, Tillman reminded them they had two years to go.

“We don’t know who else is going to change conferences,” Tillman said. “We hear a lot of different rumors. We may have an idea now but in the next six months, if some teams change conferences, that might change it all again.”

Nick Anderson contributed to this report.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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