COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Choosing to look toward the future rather than honor the past, Maryland joined the Big Ten on Monday, bolting from the Atlantic Coast Conference in a move driven by the school’s budget woes.
Maryland was a charter member of the ACC, which was founded in 1953. Tradition and history, however, were not as important to school President Wallace D. Loh as the opportunity to be linked with the prosperous Big Ten.
“By being a member of the Big Ten Conference, we are able to ensure financially stability for Maryland athletics for decades to come,” Loh said, speaking at a news conference with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson.
Loh and other school officials involved in the decision decided that the potential money to be made in the Big Ten was more significant than the $50 million exit fee and the tradition associated with belonging to the same conference for 59 years.
“I am very aware that for many of our Terps fans and alumni, their reaction is stunned and disappointed. But we will always cherish the memories, the rivalries, the tradition of the ACC,” Loh said. “For those alumni and Terp fans, I will now say this: I made this decision as best as I could … to do what is best for the University of Maryland for the long haul.”
Maryland eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year, and Loh said the shift to the Big Ten could provide enough of a windfall to restore some of those sports.
Delany said Maryland’s entry was approved unanimously by the conference’s 12 presidents.
“Quite honestly, they were giddy,” Delany said. “Maybe some people Fear the Turtle. We embrace the Turtle.”
Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member, starting in July 2014. Rutgers is expected follow suit by Tuesday, splitting from the Big East and making it an even 14 schools in the Big Ten, though Delany would not confirm that.
But he had no problem explaining why the Big Ten would be interested in stretching its boundaries from the Midwest.
“We realize that all of the major conferences are slightly outside of their footprint,” Delany said. “We believe that the association is one that will benefit both of us.”
For Maryland, the move was not entirely based on athletics. Maryland will join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of world-class research institutions.
“For me and for the board and for the faculty and for the students, the academic component is very, very important,” Loh said. “I would not have made this kind of deal if it was a conference that did not have this consortium.”
But money was really the driving force.
“Somebody has to pay the bills,” Loh said. “I want to leave a legacy for decades to come, long after I’m gone, that no president is going to wonder if Maryland athletics as we know it is going to survive.”
Besides, Loh noted, the ACC isn’t exactly the cozy little group it was 59 years ago. Notre Dame was recently added to the conference, though it will remain a football independent and play five games against ACC teams.
“The world of the ACC as we have known it has changed, and the job of the president is not just to look at the past and the present, but to look to the future,” Loh said.
Loh said the discussions between Maryland and the Big Ten gathered steam two weeks ago. On Saturday, it became clear the discussions were serious.
“Space is not the divide that it was once upon a time,” Delany said.
Maryland gives the Big Ten a presence in the major media market of Washington. D.C. Rutgers, in New Brunswick, N.J., and about 40 miles south of New York City, puts the Big Ten in the country’s largest media market, and most heavily populated area.
Delany said demographics were a huge part of this decision. The population is not growing as quickly in the Big Ten’s current Midwestern footprint as it is in other areas of the country, and it has hampered the Big Ten’s ability to recruit, especially in football, its signature sport. The Big Ten felt it needed to change that.
“We think demographics have fueled our growth the last 100 years,” Delany told the AP in an interview before the news conference. “…What we’re doing is not creating a new paradigm, we’re responding to a new paradigm but for very kind of historic reasons. We understand that success requires a dynamic involvement with rich demographics.”
For both schools, the move should come with long-term financial gain. The Big Ten reportedly paid its members $24.6 million in shared television and media rights revenues this year.
There will be some financial matters to resolve in the short term though. After the ACC added Notre Dame as a member in all sports but football and hockey in September, the league voted to raise the exit fee to $50 million. Maryland was one of two schools that voted against the increased exit fee.
Loh believes the potential financial gain of this deal will more than offset the sum.
“I say we have an arrangement within our membership that will assure the future of Maryland athletics for decades to come,” he said. “As we crunched those numbers, we are able to deal with this issue.”
The Big East’s exit fee is $10 million, but the league also requires a 27-month notification period for departing members. That means Rutgers will not be able to join the Big Ten until 2015 without working out some kind of deal with the Big East.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia have all negotiated early withdrawals from the Big East in the past year.
The ACC could now be in the market for another member and it would not be surprising if it looks to the Big East, yet again. Connecticut would seem a perfect fit after Pitt and Syracuse join next season.
The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010 to go to 12 members, and Delany had given every indication that the conference was happy to stay at that number. The conference had given no indication it was in the expansion market, and not until the last few days did it come to light, surprising many in intercollegiate athletics.
The question now is whether this sparks more realignment from conferences that weren’t even affected.
For now, though, Maryland is the latest school to forsake tradition for a financial windfall. The Terps have mostly been a middling football program for several decades, but Anderson is certain that the additional money will help.
“We believe that with recruiting, and the continued improvement of the team, we will take on the Big Ten and be very competitive,” Anderson said.