At solvent athletic departments that compete in big-time football, football not only pays for itself but generates enough profit to underwrite nearly every other varsity sport. But it has been years since that math worked at Maryland, where football revenue has steadily declined since 2006 and Coach Randy Edsall’s injury-plagued Terrapins have won just six games in the last two seasons entering their season finale.
With its athletic department facing a nearly $5 million annual deficit that is rapidly compounding and stands to top $17 million by 2017, Maryland this summer cut seven of its 27 varsity sports — a move projected to pare roughly 7 percent from the $57.7 million annual budget. But unless the Terps figure out how to boost the revenue side of their ledger, even more draconian measures are likely in store.
That’s what’s behind Maryland’s interest in the Big Ten, which is dangling millions in guaranteed income for the Terrapins to abandon the ACC, the conference it helped found in 1953, and become the 13th member of a Midwestern behemoth.
It’s easy to see why the Big Ten is pursuing Maryland and Rutgers, reportedly No. 2 of the 1-2 punch that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany hopes to land by adding the Terps and Scarlet Knights.
The two schools would extend the footprint of the lucrative Big Ten Network to the Mid-Atlantic, with Maryland delivering the nation’s eighth-biggest TV market and Rutgers the top market, presuming its fan base extends to New York as claimed.
And both are running deficits in athletics, making them prime takeover targets.
As a member of the ACC, Maryland can expect to receive roughly $17 million in its annual league payout once Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference. As a member of the Big Ten, it would be guaranteed closer to $24.6 million.
Straight cash is one thing, of course; bigger game-day crowds for football is another. No doubt, Maryland feels it could put more fans in Byrd Stadium (never mind their allegiance) by bringing Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State to College Park every other year, rather than Wake Forest, Boston College and the like.
When it comes to football attendance, Big Ten schools ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in game-day crowds in 2011, according to NCAA figures. Michigan led all schools, drawing 112,179 per game, followed by Ohio State (105,231) and Penn State (101,427). No ACC school averaged more than 78,234 (Clemson). Maryland drew 42,355.
While such Big Ten figures could never be replicated at 54,000-seat Byrd, it’s a measure of the fervor with which Big Ten fans follow their teams. Ideally, the thinking goes, even if Maryland football continues to struggle, the Terps could do better at the gate by hosting Big Ten powers than ACC also-rans.
By jumping to the Big Ten, however, Maryland officials would seemingly consign their football program to doormat status against such powers as Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan State. After struggling early this season to beat William & Mary by one point, it’s difficult to see the Terrapins contending for a Big Ten championship anytime soon.
Road trips for athletes in all sports only get longer. And the Big Ten’s academic profile is no higher than that of the ACC’s, as some backers of the switch have privately suggested.
Moreover, the Big Ten is rooted in a philosophy of offering a broad-based array of varsity sports. Ohio State offers 36 intercollegiate sports.
But Maryland just underwent the painful process of going the opposite direction, dropping more than one-fourth of its teams to cull offerings to 20.
And 20 sports would be among the fewest offered in the Big Ten. Do the Terps intend to reinstate the teams they cut with a Big Ten windfall or simply stanch the financial bleeding?
That’s assuming, of course, that Maryland can fund and politically justify paying a $50 million exit fee to leave the ACC — an expense that’s nearly equivalent to its entire annual athletic department budget.
Yet here Maryland stands on the precipice of severing a relationship with a conference it helped found nearly 60 years ago — not because its alumni are clamoring for it, and not because it’s in the interests of student-athletes but because it appears to remedy a bottom line that doesn’t add up.
Amid what should be a spirited, public debate, Maryland has no top administrator with a historical nor emotional tie to the ACC, having replaced its president, athletic director, football coach and men’s basketball coach in an 18-month span with four men who have no ties to the state of Maryland, its flagship university or its athletic conference.
It makes leaving easier.
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