But there was an ever-growing list of reasons why Loh wanted it to work. At the top of the list: Joining the Big Ten would likely bring millions of extra dollars to the school’s struggling athletic department, which has been operating at a deficit and this year announced it would cut entire sports from the program.
In an interview in College Park on Monday, Loh said he has always known that a conference jump would upset fans who were loyal to the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league that U-Md. helped create nearly 60 years ago.
“The ACC is a strong conference. We are a proud member,” said Loh, who was previously provost at the University of Iowa, a Big Ten school. “There is no reason for us to leave. So if we are going to consider, seriously, leaving, it has got to be worth our while.”
When news of the move became official last week, many students, coaches, faculty, alumni and others were stunned, and some questioned why they were not consulted. The president said he involved as many constituencies as allowed under a strict Big Ten confidentiality agreement he signed at the outset of discussions in early October.
University System of Maryland Regent C. Thomas McMillen, who cast the lone vote against endorsing the school’s Big Ten application, has publicly challenged the way in which the decision was made.
The Big Ten “wanted Maryland two years ago, and it will want Maryland tomorrow,” McMillen wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Sunday. “The real problem is that commissioners of athletic conferences can dictate terms to universities that effectively hijack the possibility of debate, and that is just plain wrong.”
Loh said neither he nor the Big Ten ever imposed a deadline, but as information began to leak out about a possible deal in mid-November, he and Big Ten officials decided it was best to forge ahead quickly.
“I believe this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Loh said. “If we don’t join now, I don’t think Maryland will ever join in my lifetime.”
It all started in early October, when Loh said Big Ten officials asked to meet. Loh and two top athletic department officials flew to Chicago for a presentation. Loh said he was “stunned” by the historically Midwestern league’s projected revenues and plans to expand beyond its current 12 schools.
Back in College Park, Loh shared what he learned with senior staff members — nearly all of whom Loh said were “absolutely incredulous” about the idea. But after a week of thinking about it, Loh said they began to see how it could benefit the university.