For nearly 60 years, the University of Maryland’s most highly anticipated athletic events have come against schools such as North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. The Terrapins’ athletic identity was linked to the South and a tradition-rich affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference, with its core of schools from Florida through the Carolinas and into the Mid-Atlantic.
On Monday, the university system’s Board of Regents voted to abandon that past for what university officials vigorously touted as a more secure financial future. Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, Maryland’s athletic department — which has faced debilitating financial woes in recent years — will compete in the powerful Big Ten, a conference with deep roots in the Midwest. It is the latest upheaval in the landscape of college athletics, which no longer conforms to traditional geographic boundaries.
“Membership in the Big Ten is in the strategic interest of the University of Maryland,” university President Wallace D. Loh said. “Number one, by being members of the Big Ten Conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come.”
Reaction from many Terrapins fans and students was decidedly negative as their school abandoned its longtime affiliation with like-minded and nearby institutions for a new but ill-defined relationship with schools that to many seemed far away and unfamiliar.
Senior men’s soccer defender Taylor Kemp was one of many who took to Twitter to express his remorse. “Moving to the big 10?” he wrote. “I came to maryland to play in the ACC, there goes a lot of tradition and pride #ACCforlife”
Maryland’s athletic ties will now be to Michigan, Ohio State and other Midwest schools, a shift in orientation that even in their opening remarks Monday officials from both the school and the Big Ten conference acknowledged would be unsettling to some longtime fans and alumni. “I know that there’s some ambivalence,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “I know that there’s some anger.”
With those emotions as a backdrop, Loh — standing in front of 15 Maryland coaches at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union — emphatically outlined the case for making the move. The financial implications could be wide-ranging for a department that this year cut seven varsity sports because of funding problems.
Loh said talks with the Big Ten intensified over the last two weeks. Maryland is subject to a $50 million exit fee from the ACC, though Loh said Monday that the exact figure “is something we will discuss in private with the ACC.” But Loh said that new revenue, largely generated by the Big Ten’s own television network, will offset that, and more.
The Big Ten said it paid out roughly $23.7 million to each of its 12 member schools in the most recent fiscal year, and the conference is in position to renegotiate its television deal in 2017, which will likely yield more money. In May, the ACC signed a new television deal with ESPN that will bring in roughly $15 million per school annually through 2027. Even with other revenue from the ACC — which recently added Notre Dame for all sports other than football — Maryland officials believe the financial windfall from the Big Ten will far outweigh the benefits of staying.
“It guarantees our athletic department and our university financial stability,” Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said. “We have done so much with so little for so long.”
Loh, Anderson and William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the chancellor of the university system, said school officials will begin evaluating which of the eliminated sports the school can bring back. Loh also said Maryland’s athletic department will be able to contribute funds to the university, though he did not specify an amount or a date when that might be possible.
“Most people, when they first hear about it, think, ‘Why would you do it? It doesn’t make sense?’ ” Kirwan said. “But the more you think about it and understand the advantages and think about the way the world’s changing, and the ACC isn’t the ACC any more.”
Rutgers, which currently plays in the Big East, is widely expected to join Maryland as the Big Ten’s 14th member, though Delany would not address that possibility Monday. “This is Maryland’s day,” he said.
Maryland played its first ACC football game on Oct. 9, 1953, and its first ACC men’s basketball game less than two months later. Over the ensuing 59 years, the school was part of the fabric of a conference that prided itself on what it considered a rich tradition. Until the ACC added Boston College in 2005, Maryland was its northernmost member.
Though former men’s basketball coach Gary Williams once infamously likened College Park to “Siberia” in the eyes of the conference offices — which are in Greensboro, N.C., within a two-hour drive of four ACC schools — the school’s fan base largely embraced its affiliation with the league. So even some segments of the Maryland community that were in favor of the move understood that departure from the ACC won’t be easy.
“Almost like the grieving process,” said Frank Kelly, a regent. “First is denial. Then you work your way through it. As you do, my sense is I’d be surprised if this doesn’t get really strong support, universally, from people who care about Maryland.”
That support wasn’t immediately apparent Monday. Regent Tom McMillen, a former Maryland basketball player and U.S. congressman, voted against the proposal, citing what he felt was a rushed process.
“I’m not saying the substance wasn’t meritorious,” McMillen said in a telephone interview. “There are arguments for it. But when you rush a process, it’s antithetical. There was sympathy in some points, but it’s all about money. It’s all about money. That’s what it is.”
Several prominent former Terrapins athletes also took to their Twitter accounts to express, at best, skepticism about the move. Kristi Toliver, a member of Maryland’s national championship women’s basketball team in 2006, wrote: “The big 10? That’s like exchanging your Bentley for a Buick.”
Torrey Smith, a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens who played football at Maryland from 2008 to 2010, lamented the sweeping changes at the school since he graduated. Football coach Ralph Friedgen, a former Maryland player, was fired by Anderson in 2010. Williams retired in 2011. Now comes a fundamental shift in who the Terrapins consider rivals.
“No Friedgen, no Gary, new competition that I can’t relate to,” Smith wrote. “No more UVA, Duke, NC talk. That’s weird. I still love the campus and the programs we have there, but I feel like if I were a recruit again I would’ve never chose MD because the reasons above are why I went there. Not being able to relate to anything at the school you graduated from is crazy.”
Maryland officials also touted an academic element to the shift. Big Ten schools participate in an academic exchange known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and Loh was adamant that element was a key in considering a move. ACC officials used such an argument when they originally pursued conference expansion in 2003, taking the University of Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East.
That move began a complete overhaul of the landscape of college athletics, which is now becoming a world in which San Diego State plays in the Big East.
“I would say that there has been a paradigm shift in intercollegiate athletics,” Delany said. “It brings about more change. It’s not always comfortable change.”
Jenna Johnson and Nick Anderson contributed to this report.
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