Ryan Bowles’ big challenge: Overseeing Maryland’s transition to the Big Ten


Neville Kelly paints new Big Ten logos onto the football field at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins officially change conferences on July 1. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

High inside Comcast Center, one month before the University of Maryland’s conference move is made official, the new branding has spilled into the office of Ryan Bowles. Memorabilia from the Big Ten Open at Congressional Country Club sat on a top shelf. A 2014 football schedule was taped to a cabinet. Stacks of paper were sprawled on the desk before him, some crammed into binders labeled “Big Ten Handbook” and “Big Ten Integration Committee,” atop three legal pads with handwritten notes about the school’s new home.

“These are my Big Ten piles,” the associate athletic director said on a recent afternoon. “I can’t believe it’s almost here.”

A self-described “obnoxiously proud Marylander at times,” Bowles rooted for the Terrapins as a child, staying home from school one Friday each March to watch the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament on television. But a decade inside the Maryland athletics department had taught him to expect the unpredictable in the domino-toppling world of college sports. So when Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson needed someone to oversee the transition’s logistics, assign responsibilities and facilitate change following the official announcement in November 2012, he pegged Bowles, who started in the department as an administrative intern in 2003.

“I think I was naive,” Bowles said. He nodded toward the binders and laughed. Everyone at Maryland has a better grasp on it now as July 1 — the date when Maryland formally moves from the ACC to the Big Ten — approaches, but the biggest initial challenge was tackling the unknown. At his first PowerPoint presentation to fellow athletic officials, Bowles opened a map of the Midwest and asked, part rhetorically and part informatively, “What is the Big Ten?”

Though he’s quick to add that “every single person in the athletics department has played a role,” the role of ultimate delegation fell to Bowles. On Oct. 24, 2013, Maryland launched its Big Ten Integration Committee, subcategorized into seven work groups, each made up of athletes, coaches, administrators and campus personnel, all of them tasked with reviewing a different aspect of the move.

“Ryan knew what I wanted, and I knew he was going to get it done,” Anderson said.

The Big Ten Network and communications group, for instance, finalized plans to build a “talkback studio” for satellite interviews inside the visitor’s media room at Byrd Stadium. The governance and compliance group learned that the Big Ten drug tests independently of Maryland and the NCAA and suggested the school employ a drug-testing site coordinator to oversee the additional testing. Donor and alumni relations examined the lack of organized groups in Big Ten cities — Maryland has just one in the entire Midwest: in Chicago.

“I can’t imagine we have one in Lincoln, Nebraska,” Bowles said. “But there are Terps fans. Let’s establish something out there.”

A ticketing task force wondered whether to charge fans to attend Olympic sports such as wrestling and volleyball, big deals in Big Ten country but lightly attended in College Park. Bowles chaired the football game day group, which recommended tailgating guides, postgame fireworks and the creation of a dedicated RV parking lot. The academics and student experience group handled differences in eligibility requirements, such as how the Big Ten allows non-qualifiers to enroll (the ACC does not) and has a rule requiring freshmen athletes to complete 24 credit hours at Maryland instead of transferring them in from, for example, a community college back home.

Part of Maryland’s deal with the Big Ten included a travel stipend worth between $20 million and $30 million to alleviate the increased costs, though Bowles said the business and travel work group found that time spent on road trips wouldn’t deviate much, just the mode of transportation. A five-hour bus ride to North Carolina, for instance, becomes an hour-long drive to the airport, a three-hour flight and another hour in the bus to the team hotel.

“The work of Ryan and those who were on the committees has been fabulous,” Anderson said. “It’s been beyond my expectations, and I can truly say and feel very good about the processes. . . . The amount of work that’s been done and the plan we put together, I think it’s probably the most comprehensive that most, if not any school has done going through a similar exercise.”

The most visible task fell to the facilities and branding work group. The campus needed to be wired for television trucks and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s fiber optic network. Uniforms had to be scrubbed of all ACC logos and replaced with Big Ten ones. Facilities, too. The old insignia were everywhere.

“Even little things you don’t realize,” Bowles said, noting the massive photos of former football players that lined through the concourse. “Well, there’s a small ACC patch on those jerseys.”

On April 30, the 43 recommendations made by the seven committees were released in a final internal report. As the launch draws near, some already have come to fruition.

Construction for the talkback studio will begin shortly. The athletic venues have been canvased by Big Ten Network officials. The department’s Twitter account has begun publishing infographics for each Big Ten school to teach fans about Maryland’s new opponents, just like Bowles did at his first meeting. Alumni, coaches and players have tweeted pictures wearing Big Ten sunglasses to generate buzz. Advertisements have sprung up inside Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Celebrations at Nationals Park and Under Armour headquarters have been announced, not to mention the Big Ten-themed ice cream dining services has concocted, all part of what the branding committee called a “60-day marketing blitz.”

And inside Comcast Center, Bowles and his coworkers have their sights set on July 1, when the binders and legal pads will, at long last, spring to life.

“We’ve talked about it,” Bowles said. “Now it’s finally here.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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