Leaving 60 years of tradition behind, Maryland pulled up its deep-rooted history with the Atlantic Coast Conference on Monday in an admitted money grab and cast its future with the Midwest-based Big Ten Conference.
The Terrapins will officially become members of the Big Ten on July 1, 2014, along with Rutgers of the Big East, making it a 14-member league. Struggling financially for years, Maryland’s athletic department dropped seven varsity sports in the last year, but believes that added revenue from the Big Ten will “ensure the financial sustainability for decades to come,” according to university president Wallace D. Loh.
Big Ten members were awarded approximately $23.7 million each in 2011, while ACC schools are expected to receive close to $15 million through 2027 from its recently signed television deal with ESPN. That contract will likely be renegotiated for more money due to the addition of Notre Dame in all sports but football.
How Maryland’s move will impact the ACC and the University of Virginia is yet to be determined, although the conference is expected to seek another school to fill the void. Connecticut and Louisville have been mentioned as possible replacements, though UConn petitioned the ACC to take it along with Syracuse and Pittsburgh during the conference’s expansion a year ago.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh officially become members on July 1, 2013, while Notre Dame is negotiating its exit from the Big East as well.
The ACC, perhaps shocked that one of its original seven members would pull out on such short notice, released a short statement Monday afternoon about the Terrapins’ withdrawal. Conference officials have declined further comment on the sudden move.
“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in the statement. “Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit.”
The Big Ten has harbored intentions of extending the tentacles of its own lucrative sports television network into the northeast and mid-Atlantic and coveted the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets.
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of Maryland’s university system, said that while many Maryland fans have expressed disappointment, even anger over the move away from ties to longtime rivals, that the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics has presented new opportunities.
“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.”
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said during the taping of his Sirius XM Radio show on Monday afternoon that he is worried about the future of the ACC.
“I think the ACC is vulnerable right now, I’m concerned about our conference,” said Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in major college basketball history. “I think there could still be some movement in our conference. I do think more people are going to go after people in our conference now, especially if Maryland shows that in some way they can reduce to get out of that $50 million commitment.”
The ACC changed its bylaws in September that any member that decided to leave the conference would be fined a $50 million exit fee. Maryland was one of two schools to protest that figure and said that it will attempt to negotiate a lesser fee.
“For my own conference, it’s time to circle wagons and take attendance and make sure we have who we have,” Krzyzewski said.
While the ACC is now faced with the problem of whether or not to find another member to replace Maryland, the Terrapins’ exit doesn’t seem to have a major effect on how Virginia will conduct its athletic business. Maryland was considered UVa’s “primary partner,” a crossover relationship from a scheduling standpoint from the ACC’s two divisions, something that will have to be reexamined if and when the conference adds a replacement.
“Although [Maryland] was a nice border rival, so to speak, it won’t matter a great deal that they’ll no longer be on our schedules,” said Craig Littlepage, Virginia’s director of athletics. “Yes, it was very convenient for us, and for some of our sports the competition will be missed such as in men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s lacrosse.
“The bigger question is how prospects will react,” Littlepage said in reference to potential high school recruits. “In other words, prospects that went to Maryland knew much of their competition would be played within a drive of their home (six ACC schools within five hours of D.C.). Similarly, we could recruit well in D.C. for the same reason.”
Virginia football coach Mike London said Monday that while he was “shocked and surprised” by Maryland’s decision, that perhaps his program could benefit in recruiting from the move.
“I think that those young men in the D.C., Maryland area probably have more of an opportunity by coming to Virginia to be seen by their parents and their community to see them play against Virginia Tech or Duke, or UNC, or N.C. State as opposed to traveling to an away Big Ten slate,” London said. “When you talk about parents and families seeing you play and being able to look at it on a map and talking about the geography of it is going to be important as well.”
Maryland will likely have to declare itself as an independent in lacrosse because the Big Ten presently has only three teams that play the sport (Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State), and the NCAA requires six teams in a conference in order to gain automatic invitation status to postseason play.
Because of a potential icy relationship with the ACC, teams in the league could decide not to schedule games against the Terrapins as a nonconference opponent not only in lacrosse but any sport.