The University of Maryland will announce today that Comcast Corp., a telecommunications and entertainment company based in Philadelphia, has agreed to buy the naming rights to a proposed $90 million, on-campus arena that would seat 17,100 and replace Cole Field House, sources said last night.

The length and value of the agreement were unclear, but the university had been seeking at least $25 million from a naming sponsor, and a source familiar with negotiations said last night "you might be surprised" by the value of the deal.

The agreement comes a week before the state's 90-day legislative session begins in Annapolis. During the session, athletic department officials hope to have legislation introduced on their behalf that would provide $45 million in state funding for the arena. The legislature is expected to approve the appropriation, but that money was contingent on the university selling the naming rights so it could afford its share of the project.

The athletic department is raising the rest of the money for the arena through other sponsorships, tax-deductible donations for preferred seating locations and the use of some student athletic fees.

Last night, Jack Heise, chairman of the capital campaign for the athletic department, said the department's goal is to raise at least $20 million from the sale of seat licenses to 1,600 seats. According to initial plans, the athletic department will require a donation, likely a minimum of $25,000 over five years, that will entitle the donor to buy tickets in prime seating locations for an undetermined period of time. Those donors also will be required to maintain a minimum level of contribution to the athletic department's fund-raising arm, the Terrapin Club, Heise said.

Groundbreaking for the arena is planned for this spring, according to information on the Maryland Stadium Authority's world wide web site. The authority will oversee construction, which will take place on the north perimeter of the College Park campus, adjacent to intramural athletic fields and near the intersection of University Boulevard and Azalea Lane.

If all goes as planned, the arena would open before the 2002-2003 school year. Cole Field House, which seats 14,500, is 44 years old and does not meet current building codes.

William Destler, a university vice president and dean and the school's chief negotiator on the project, confirmed there will be a news conference today, but declined to comment further. Steve Burch, senior regional vice president for Comcast, also declined to comment.

Destler and Burch said last month that they doubted a deal could be completed before the end of January. It was unclear last night what accelerated the process.

Comcast is the nation's No. 3 cable television provider, owning systems in the Baltimore and Richmond areas, among others. It also owns the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, a minor league hockey team, two sports arenas and a sports cable channel in Philadelphia through its Comcast Spectacor and Comcast SportsNet divisions. Comcast also holds principal ownership in QVC, a home shopping cable network, and controlling interest in E! Entertainment Television and other programming investments.

Much of the planning for the arena has been completed, with an attempt to re-create the atmosphere of Cole Field House, including locating the main concourse at the top of the seating bowl. There also will be an increase in the number of concession stands and rest rooms over the number at Cole. Designs include 16 suites and a Terrapin Club room with a capacity of 400 people.

In addition to the basketball arena, the new complex will have a 7,000-square-foot academic support and career development center, a weight room, two practice gymnasiums, a hall of fame and locker rooms for several sports and athletic department offices.