Maryland joined a not-very-long and not-so-proud list of leech schools Monday when the Board of Regents approved a move to the Big Ten Conference, a.k.a. the Notorious B1G. (That ridiculous acronym should be reason enough not to make the change, but too late.)
What hath college football wrought? If a team cannot win, and win big, it needs to be in a conference whose other teams can win, and win big. (Lest Terps fans feel I am unfairly maligning Maryland, let me point out that my alma mater, Kansas, is also a leech school, football cannon fodder for the best of the Big 12. Basketball is another story, but even top-tier programs don’t approach the revenue generated by decent football programs.)
The Terps’ athletic budget has not been shored up, not by the arrival of President Wallace D. Loh and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, not by cutting seven sports, not by bringing in Randy Edsall, not even by factoring in its upcoming $17 million annual payout from a new $3.6 billion television contract between the ACC and ESPN.
Twenty varsity sports — low by most standards, including the B1G’s — and $17 million in guaranteed revenue will not get it done in College Park. The B1G can offer about $24.6 million a year.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (Legends and Leaders?) quickly accepted Maryland’s application for membership, and the Terps will become the 13th member in the 2014 season. Oh, and the Terps also have to write a check for $50 million to the ACC (although they may take their chances in court and try to challenge that).
So let’s get this straight: Maryland was delighted two years ago when James Franklin went to Vanderbilt because it no longer owed him $1 million. They could then afford to buy out Ralph Friedgen despite his 8-4 season for $2 million. The wailing and gnashing of teeth over that $2 million — followed by eliminating those seven sports — is hilarious now in the face of a $50 million payout. If you have to spend money to make money, Maryland should be printing the stuff in a few years.
The really sad fact: Even with an increased windfall from the B1G, Maryland probably still won’t be able to break even. Only a few dozen Division I teams manage to do that. So the Terps are spending $50 million for the opportunity to stay in debt — to which they can add $50 million.
Maryland’s move is the first domino in what is expected will be a series of moves to fill holes. Rutgers will jump to the B1G as well; the Scarlet Knights are attractive because it is believed they will bring the New York-New Jersey television market along in their duffel bags. Maryland is attractive for the same reason: The Washington area is a desirable TV market. How many people here tune in regularly to see the Terps is another matter; it’s hard to judge when Terps games are often relegated to ESPN3.
Ain’t realignment grand? Don’t we already need a scorecard not to tell the players apart, but to determine what teams are in which conference? Geography is clearly out the window, along with common sense, loyalty and tradition — those old-fashioned notions no one cares about anyway.
Many people are trying to cloak this decision in academic robes. Maryland’s student government executive board voiced its support for the move in a letter to university officials, citing academics as a major reason. According to the letter, Maryland “would enter the prestigious Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which includes all of the members of the Big Ten as well as the University of Chicago. Several academic benefits come with membership in the CIC, ranging from collaboration and cooperation that helps member schools obtain federal grants, to exchanges of member resources and scholars. This would increase the University’s stature as a Research I institution, further bolstering our academic reputation nationally and globally.”
That’s wonderful, but the fact remains: B1G schools are fine institutions, and so are ACC schools. If the students (not student-athletes, students) at Maryland are somehow helped by the move, then that’s tremendous.
But let’s not kid ourselves here: Maryland would never have made (or taken) the phone call in order to join a prestigious academic consortium if the price tag was $50 million. The Terps ended a 59-year relationship with the ACC to attach itself to the underbelly of a more lucrative — and more powerful — football conference, the B1G. The “G” apparently stands for “Go for the dough.” And the Terps went.
More on Maryland’s move: