The University of Maryland was poised Sunday to end its 59-year affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference and jump to the Big Ten Conference, a move that would eliminate a number of the school’s longstanding college sports rivalries but, in the view of those behind the proposal, shore up the finances of an athletic department that has fallen on rocky budgetary times.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland will meet early Monday morning in a private session in Baltimore to decide whether Maryland should join the 12-member Big Ten, which is looking to expand its geographic and financial footprint.
The proposal needs a simple majority of the board’s 16 members to pass. University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, who spearheaded the move, briefed the board on the proposal via telephone late Sunday afternoon.
The board members had not been formally briefed on the situation before the conference call with Loh. Multiple individuals with firsthand knowledge of the situation, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, remained unsure of how the Board of Regents would vote, only saying that, as one put it, members “have a lot of questions.”
“Obviously there’s a financial incentive, but we need to know what else is involved,” one of those individuals said. “Is there any other reason besides money? What are the pros and cons? What does it mean to spread the size of your conference out? I don’t want to sit down and say I’ve made up my mind until I’ve heard all the data.”
Should the proposal pass, Maryland would next formally apply for membership in the Big Ten, whose Council of Presidents and Chancellors would then vote on the matter.
Earlier this year, Maryland eliminated seven varsity sports to close the athletic department’s multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Meanwhile, the Big Ten distributed $284 million in revenue to its 12 schools this fiscal year, a substantial portion of which derived from its contract with the Big Ten Network, which broadcasts the conference’s games to 73 million cable and satellite subscribers. Most of the schools received $24.6 million.
The ACC and ESPN announced a 15-year, $3.6 billion extension of their television agreement in May, divisible to about $17 million per school each year.
Such a move by Maryland would likely set into motion another round of realignment in college sports, as the major conferences seek stability through greater numbers and financial enrichment through lucrative television contracts. The Big Ten is expected to add another school along with Maryland, possibly Rutgers, which would bring with it the highly coveted New York television market. The ACC, meanwhile, would likely look to the Big East Conference to fill the void created by Maryland.
While Maryland would almost certainly benefit financially with a move to the Big Ten, there has been a backlash from fans and alumni, who claim the school is jettisoning tradition in favor of money. A Facebook group titled “Keep UMD in the ACC!” had more than 1,500 members as of Sunday night. Len Elmore, an all-American on the men’s basketball team in the 1970s who now works as a basketball commentator for ESPN, lamented to The Washington Post late Saturday night that Maryland is “looking for a money grab.”
Joseph Tydings, a former U.S. senator and Board of Regents chairman who graduated from Maryland in 1950, was similarly distraught. When reached by phone Sunday, Tydings said that moving to the Big Ten “would be a serious, serious blow to the stature and the standing of this university.”
“It’s extremely disturbing for myself,” Tydings said. “We have financial problems at the moment, but we overcome those. We will in the past and we will in the future. . . . I think it’s unconscionable. To do it quietly, and surreptitiously, in order to get some big $100, $150 million payoff? I can’t understand why they would do it.”
But former Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams, a graduate of the school, voiced support for the move in a telephone interview Sunday night.
“If you want to be successful in basketball and football, that takes certain finances to do that,” Williams said. “We shouldn’t feel bad about doing what other schools have done to increase the exposure, to increase the validity of their programs.”
Williams, who is paid $400,000 per year as a special assistant to Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, said Anderson did not dictate his views on the conference realignment issue.
To leave the ACC, the University of Maryland would be subject to the conference’s $50 million exit fee, which was raised from about $20 million in September in an attempt by the conference to prevent defections. Loh was one of two ACC university presidents to vote against the fee.
Schools wishing to withdraw from the conference must file official notices on or before Aug. 15 for it to become effective June 30 the following year, meaning the earliest Maryland could officially join the Big Ten would be 2014, barring a settlement between the school and the ACC.
When contacted by The Post, multiple ACC athletic directors seemed blindsided by the news, citing a lack of communication between the University of Maryland and the conference at large.
“It’s a surprise,” one individual said. “No one anticipated this. I think it’s fair to assume that everyone is very surprised by it. The fact that there’s been minimal communication at this point with Maryland is an indication, probably, of the direction that it’s going.”
Liz Clarke contributed to this report.
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