By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
9:28 AM CST, November 18, 2012
Members of Maryland’s Board of Regents are awaiting a private telephone briefing – scheduled for late this afternoon – by university president Wallace D. Loh on the school’s proposed move to the Big Ten.
The conference call is in advance of a regents meeting on Monday to consider the move.
Regents heard about Maryland’s talks with the Big Ten over the past several days. Loh’s briefing today is believed to be an important step in explaining the school’s rationale for considering leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which Maryland was an original member.
Maryland hasn’t attempted to make a public case for switching conferences. At least one top Maryland official made a commitment early in the talks to refrain from commenting on them in public.
Clearly, Maryland wanted to avoid negotiating in the public domain. But the secrecy – media calls aren’t being returned -- means that the school’s thinking on this is not yet well understood by fans.
Among the questions Loh may be asked:
--How would Maryland handle the new, steep conference exit fee approved in September over the dissenting votes of Maryland and Florida State? The ACC’s Council of Presidents boosted the fees to three times the annual operating budget – amounting to more than $50 million.
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said in September that the fee went into effect “immediately.” The previous fee was $20 million.
As news of the Big Ten talks broke this weekend, there was discussion within the Maryland community over whether there might be any wiggle room in the language of the motion that the presidents approved.
I’ve requested a copy from the ACC of the minutes of that meeting, which would describe exactly what was in the motion. It’s all about the details.
In terms of timing, Forbes reported in September that “the payout also comes with a relatively speedy exit. An exiting school must notify the conference and its members of its plans by August 15 in order to leave by the end of the following June, a roughly ten-month wait.”
How would Maryland pay the $50 million if it were indeed on the hook for the entire amount? Would somebody step in to help?
Consider Maryland’s fiscal situation. In announcing that it was cutting eight sports teams in November 2011, (the number was later pared to seven), the university said it faced a lengthy recovery from budget issues years in the making.
“We have a plan that will restore financial health and sustainability by 2019,” Loh said then.
These fiscal issues – Maryland said its economic model for athletics was not sustainable until the seven sports were discontinued – appear to be central to the school’s Big Ten flirtation. The school’s athletics department does not want to be barely scraping by financially, as is the case now. It wants to be thriving.
The question is, how much does the school have to give up -- in terms of its ACC tradition, geographic rivalries, travel considerations etc. -- in exchange for money?
--Is there a reason for rushing the discussion over the possibility of joining the Big Ten? Some Maryland insiders are concerned that the debate has barely had time to germinate. They wonder whether ACC officials have had an opportunity to talk to Maryland about its plans.
--What are the implications for lacrosse, an iconic sport in the state of Maryland and a successful one (men’s and women’s) at the university? Although it is gaining traction in the Midwest, the Big Ten doesn’t count lacrosse among its sports.
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