The sources requested anonymity because they are not allowed to speak on the university’s behalf. Reached by telephone on Saturday night, Kirwan declined comment. Multiple messages requesting comment were left for Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and Loh.
Maryland is a charter member of the ACC, which was formed in 1953. But a move to the Big Ten would be an economic boon for the school’s athletic department, which this year eliminated seven varsity sports because of declining financial fortunes.
Thanks in part to the financially lucrative Big Ten Network, the conference distributed $284 million to its 12 schools this fiscal year, with 11 reportedly receiving $24.6 million each and Nebraska, which joined the league in 2011, reportedly receiving about $14 million.
In May, the ACC and ESPN announced a 15-year extension of their coverage agreement, which would pay the conference approximately $3.6 billion over the course of the contract. That equates to about $17 million a year per school, an increase of more than $4 million from the league’s previous contract.
Len Elmore, who starred on the Maryland men’s basketball team from 1971 to 1974 and now is a basketball commentator for ESPN, called the news “sad” and Maryland’s possible defection to the Big Ten a “bad move.”
“From a standpoint of tradition, I didn’t think my alma mater would be looking for a money grab, one of the most pernicious things in all of college sports,” Elmore said. “It’s nuts. They’re blinded by the dollars.”
Elmore is a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group of university presidents, trustees and former athletes who advocate for reform in college sports. Kirwan is the group’s co-chair.
According to one individual privy to internal discussions within the Maryland athletic department, the school is also considering the move because of academics. Big Ten members, along with the University of Chicago, a former member of the conference, comprise the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium in which members collaborate on academic endeavors. Opportunities for expanding research in the agricultural, biotechnological and engineering fields, the individual said, presented an enticing allure for Maryland.
In mid-September, the ACC voted to add Notre Dame as the conference’s 13th member. The Fighting Irish will be a full member in all sports but football, though Notre Dame has agreed to play five nonconference football games per year against ACC teams, beginning in 2014-15.
At the same time, the conference announced that it would increase the exit fee for teams wishing to leave from $20 million to roughly $50 million, or three years’ worth of the revenue distributed annually to each team. Such an exit fee, should Maryland have to pay the entirety of it, would dampen any financial windfall the school receives from the Big Ten. Schools wishing to leave also have to give the conference 10 months’ notice.
Adding Notre Dame was a unanimous decision, but Loh was among the two ACC university presidents who voted against the increased exit fee, citing a “legal and philosophical” disagreement and calling the fee an “exit penalty.” In an interview with The Post, Loh stated that his disagreement with the decision stemmed from his academic upbringing.
Loh believed that, if challenged in court, the $50 million exit fee would not hold up. He also declared that Maryland would remain in the ACC for years to come.
“I think the ACC is a fantastic conference,” Loh said. “Maryland has been part of this conference from the very beginning, it’s a deep and rich tradition, we will continue to be a part of the ACC.”
According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, the ACC’s addition of Notre Dame as a full member in all sports except for football irked top Maryland officials, because it broke with the conference’s traditional requirement that all members must participate in all sports.
But the possible move to the Big Ten also bothered some Maryland fans. As of 9:45 p.m. Saturday night, a Facebook group entitled “Keep UMD in the ACC!” had more than 300 members.