Maryland considering a move to the Big Ten Conference
A wide view of Byrd Stadium during Maryland's final home football game of the season Saturday against Florida State. (Rob Carr, Getty Images / November 17, 2012)
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The regents were told about the talks this weekend but had not received a written presentation as of early Saturday night. Not all of the regents favor leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, and there is expected to be a lively discussion, said one official who declined to be named because the matter is ongoing.
The Big Ten talks have heavily involved university president Wallace Loh, according to sources. Loh came from the Big Ten, where he was the University of Iowa provost. There are also reports that Rutgers of the Big East would join the Big Ten with Maryland to give the conference 14 schools.
Maryland has a long tradition in the ACC and is one of the conference's original members.
But the school — a large public research institution with a sizable fan following in the overlapping Baltimore-Washington television markets — has long drawn interest from various conferences.
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in 2011: “We're very satisfied with our membership in the ACC.” Part of that was based on the school's perception that the ACC, which had a new television deal with ESPN, is not in danger of collapse.
Anderson and other school athletic officials declined requests for comment Saturday. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and several other Big Ten officials also did not returns calls.
In September, Maryland voted against the ACC's plan to increase its exit fee to about $50 million. Maryland considered such a steep fee to be punitive, but the measure was passed.
“I'm concerned about the buyout and what implications it might have,” former Maryland basketball star and current ESPN college basketball analyst Len Elmore said Saturday after news of the Big Ten talks broke.
Elmore, also a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group, said: “Everything must change, but the ACC has been about tradition. Just to walk away from that for the money...”
This year, Maryland has had to cut seven teams because it could no longer financially sustain them. Part of the problem was that unsold luxury suites remained in Byrd Stadium's Tyser Tower, the $50.8 million football stadium modernization project that opened before Anderson arrived.
The ACC announced in September that Notre Dame would join the conference and schedule more football games with ACC members, but Notre Dame retained its football independence.
Anderson — who in recent years has favored ACC expansion — has long hoped that the conference might improve its football profile. That, in turn, could help generate interest in Maryland's own football program, elevating recruiting and attendance. The Big Ten is a higher profile football conference and also has a more lucrative television arrangement than the ACC, which includes its own network — an important fiscal consideration for Maryland.
In May, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that each Big Ten school will receive about $24.6 million in shared revenue this year, according to figures provided to the newspaper by the Illinois athletic department.
Anderson, who arrived as athletic director from West Point two years ago, has often said he wants to take Maryland “from good to great,” a reference to a 2001 book by Jim Collins that chronicles the successes of business leaders. Anderson's management style is modeled in part on the book.
The possibility of Maryland leaving the ACC has been a much-discussed topic among boosters and fans in recent years. After a 2010 report chronicling Big Ten interest, many associated with Maryland expressed reservations about schools bolting conferences for the lure of higher annual payouts from television revenue and other sources. The concern was also expressed that traditional ACC basketball rivalries would end and that more extended conference travel would mean more time away from class for athletes.
“If I were on the Board of Regents, I would say ‘Don't even think about it,' ” said former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell, who also played in the ACC, for Duke. “It's not all about money. The students are interested in Duke and Carolina and N.C. State. They don't know anything about Wisconsin and Illinois.”
A move to the Big Ten would mean the resumption of a longtime Maryland-Penn State football series that was popular with local fans but was dominated by the Nittany Lions. Penn State beat Maryland, 70-7, in 1993, the last time they played.
The Board of Regents' committee on education policy was already scheduled to meet Monday on other issues, but now it is expected to turn into a different sort of meeting with regents talking about the proposed move.
In September the regents approved a measure to improve oversight of intercollegiate athletics — including athletic department finances and athletes' academic performances. Some Maryland regents and boosters were unhappy Saturday that they were not filled in earlier on the Big Ten talks.