So now Maryland thinks it wants to join the Big Ten. Not surprisingly, the bottom line on such a deal would be — of course — the bottom line.
There’s not a thing wrong with that.
Here’s what the Big Ten will offer: First, and foremost, lots more money. The Big Ten TV package is already worth far more than the ACC TV package, and it is going to soar even more in 2017 when its primary rights are up for bid again. The ACC just locked into a long-term deal with ESPN that is lucrative but won’t be up again until 2027. That means the potential for growth is far greater in the Big Ten.
Those who will decry the loss of tradition and longstanding rivalries should look around. One of Maryland’s biggest problems competitively is that it doesn’t have a true arch rival. Have you ever heard a recruit in any sport say, “I chose Maryland for the chance to play in the Maryland-Virginia game every year?”
No. As for Duke and North Carolina being rivals in basketball, there are a couple of issues. To begin with, the two schools look at each other, not at Maryland, as their primary rival. Second, when Gary Williams made Maryland-Duke and Maryland-North Carolina basketball games important, the Terrapins were playing four games annually against the two schools, and frequently five and occasionally six games. Now, in the expanded ACC, one or the other will come to Comcast Center each season. Period. Frequency of competition makes rivalries great in basketball. It can’t happen for Maryland anymore in the John Swofford-redesigned ACC, where Maryland basketball is guaranteed two annual games only with Pittsburgh, which the Terrapins have faced all of seven times.
The Big Ten can offer Penn State as a football rival. Even after its horrific fall from grace, Penn State is going to be a football power, as it has proven by winning seven games in its crippled state this season. For years, Maryland played Penn State annually (and lost annually; the Terrapins are 1-35-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions). What’s more, visits by Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State will likely fill a few more seats in Byrd Stadium than games against Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina State.
One of Maryland’s biggest complaints with ACC membership was that the league was marketed and sold as a North Carolina-based business. Williams screamed about that all the time. “We might as well be in Siberia,” he once famously said in a reference to the ACC office being located in Greensboro, N.C., and its focus on the state’s four league schools — especially Duke and North Carolina.
Williams wasn’t wrong, but moving to the Big Ten isn’t going to change Maryland’s status as an outlier. The Big Ten office is in a Chicago suburb and the heart of the league is always going to be in the Midwest regardless of expansion into Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey — assuming Rutgers goes along for the ride with Maryland.
That said, the second major reason beyond money for Maryland to make this move is football. Maryland football — like at most schools in the ACC — hasn’t really mattered on the national stage since the 1950s.
The same can be said this season about the Big Ten because its only good team, undefeated Ohio State, isn’t eligible to play in postseason. The difference is this: A down year nationally in the Big Ten is an exception; a down year nationally in the ACC is the rule.
Being in the Big Ten will help Maryland recruit better football players, although the competition year in and year out will be tougher. Down the road, the Debbie Yow white-elephant suites and upper deck at Byrd Stadium might even be filled if Maryland can be competitive against Big Ten teams.
Basketball will certainly be different, but right now the Big Ten is a stronger basketball conference top-to-bottom than the ACC. With Indiana back on the national map, it has a half-dozen top tier programs, including Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue — all teams that are Sweet 16 caliber almost every year. The ACC? It has been a two-team league for most of the last 10 years.
The one real stumbling block for Maryland is the $50 million buyout the ACC’s university presidents approved earlier this fall, when Notre Dame joined the league as a full member in all sports but football. It is now apparent why Maryland President Wallace D. Loh was one of two who voted no on the issue. Loh told The Washington Post two months ago that he doesn’t think a buyout that punitive will hold up in court.
Perhaps. Most courts have ruled in the past that a private organization has the right to make its own rules. Either way, shelling out $50 million or even half that (if Maryland can bargain with the league) isn’t going to look good for a school that just dropped seven sports because of a budget crisis.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though, because long term, Maryland stands to make back the $50 million and more in only a few years.
So, let’s add it all up. Tradition has ceased to exist in college athletics, so it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation. There will be a lot more money waiting for Maryland’s budget-strapped athletic department in the Big Ten. The conference is run by Jim Delaney, one of the less savory individuals in college athletics, but also — as he proved by being so far out in front in maximizing TV dollars with the Big Ten Network — one of the smartest.
Football would be helped in terms of recruiting and ticket sales and fan interest. Basketball would stay about the same — games against Ohio State and Michigan State wouldn’t stir up the Maryland crowd like the Duke games do, but some would say that’s a good thing. The games would still be sellouts.
Travel for non-revenue teams would be pretty similar — Miami and Boston and Syracuse aren’t a lot easier to get to than Columbus or Chicago or even Minneapolis.
If Maryland makes the jump, Loh is going to trying to sell this as an academic move. That will be the blathering of an academic. The move is about money and there are, literally, millions of reasons to do it.
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