For some Big Ten alumni living in the Washington region, the announcement Monday that the University of Maryland will become the conference’s 13th member made the D.C. area feel a little more like home.
It takes about four hours for LeslieAnn Souders, a board member of the Penn State Alumni Chapter of Washington, to travel to Happy Valley to see the Nittany Lions play football. When Penn State visits Byrd Stadium in College Park for future conference games, it will shorten her trip to 30 minutes.
“Personally, I’m pretty excited,” Souders said. “It will expand on the experience and the competition.”
The Big Ten is historically a Midwestern conference, with its headquarters in Illinois, its football championship in Indianapolis and a cadre of large schools surrounding the Great Lakes. Before Monday, Penn State — in central Pennsylvania — was the easternmost school in its ranks.
But the conference also boasts a large presence in the Washington region, with more than 91,000 alumni of Big Ten schools living nearby Maryland’s campus, according to the schools. With Maryland poised to regularly host teams from as far away as Minnesota and Nebraska, the Big Ten community suddenly seems near at hand, Souders said.
Souders is one of 12,000 Penn State alumni living in the Washington area, part of a devoted network of Big Ten fans that crowds bars, living rooms and stadiums.
Those fans likely will help Maryland fill seats at sporting events and put cash into Maryland’s coffers, something the school has struggled to do in recent years. Maryland eliminated seven varsity sports earlier this year due to the department’s multimillion-dollar deficit.
University of Illinois alumni in Washington got a preview of what it could be like to have a local Big Ten rival last year, when the Illini faced the Terrapins in basketball. The school’s Washington alumni group received 250 tickets to the game and sold them all, club president Burt Wagner said. It was the Illinois alumni association’s largest event.
“Granted, they stuck us up in the nosebleed section, but we made sure that section was orange and really loud,” Wagner said.
Indiana University fans also will be watching closely as their top-ranked basketball team faces off against Maryland, said Jim Trilling, president of the Indiana University Alumni Association’s D.C. chapter. Indiana last played Maryland in 2002, when the Terrapins beat the Hoosiers to win their first men’s basketball championship.
“There’s inherent interest among Indiana fans in the Maryland program,” Trilling said.
Charmaine Chan, president of the University of Michigan Club of Washington, said she also sees networking benefits to Maryland’s membership in the Big Ten. Her club hopes to host joint events with Maryland’s alumni club, she said.
The Penn State alumni club looks forward to doing the same, and hopes to host a happy hour or charity event to welcome Maryland into the fold.
For Souders, Maryland’s switch to the Big Ten has personal significance as well: After getting her undergraduate diploma from Penn State, she attended Maryland for grad school. She’s excited to have both of her alma maters in the same conference, but there’s no question where she puts her allegiance.
“I actually have Penn State season tickets, so I think I know where I lie on that one,” Souders said.
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