- Alden Reiss/Daily
By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 19, 2012
Len Elmore, Len Bias, Joe Smith, Steve Francis, Steve Blake, and Juan Dixon.
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They aren’t among the greatest to play in the Big Ten, but as of Monday, they’re now among the greatest to play at one of the conference’s member schools.
The University of Maryland Board of Regents voted to join the Big Ten, leaving the ACC, in which Maryland was a charter member starting in 1953. The move inflates the Big Ten to 13 schools, and the expected addition of Rutgers on Tuesday will bring it to an even 14.
Maryland’s first season of Big-Ten competition will come in the 2014-15 academic year.
“Between the Big Ten Network and the strength of our conference right now, (the Big Ten has) been very good to men’s basketball since I’ve been here,” said Michigan coach John Beilein Monday. “If they believe Maryland is the right fit, I’m all for it.”
The Terrapins have a rich basketball tradition, and College Park, Md. became an NBA breeding ground under legendary coach Lefty Driesell, and later, Gary Williams, who brought the program its only national championship in 2002. He also brought the Terrapins to their only other Final Four appearance in 2001.
Michigan has split six matchups with Maryland and won the schools’ only NCAA Tournament matchup — a 78-71 triumph in the regional semifinals in 1994.
With 14 teams, the conference must determine whether to increase the number of Big Ten games during the season, or keep the schedule at 18 games, with each school playing more teams, but losing a home-and-home two-game series with a few teams each year. The alternative under an expanded schedule would be to retain the home-and-home format, but play fewer teams each season.
“I know the coaches generally like fewer games, I know the commissioners generally like more games and I think there’s probably a compromise in the middle,” said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany in a teleconference on Monday.
The difficulty of scheduling with more teams may make the creation of basketball divisions necessary. The football divisions appear to be a solution, but the strengths of schools in basketball could make the split unequal.
“In the Big East, we did not have divisions,” Beilein said of his time at West Virginia. “We just played and they found a way to do it and it wasn’t always a mathematical plan that had equity. It was just what makes sense for TV, and frankly, that happens a lot.”
Opening the East Coast to the Big Ten adds big markets and significant money to the conference, but it could also compound logistical issues.
Basketball is the biggest Michigan sport that plays midweek out-of-town games on a regular basis, and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers only makes the travel more difficult. The distance to College Park and New Brunswick, N.J. is exceeded only by Lincoln and Minneapolis.
“I think that with the way we’re allowed to travel right now, it’s always difficult, but it’s still gonna be 18 games,” Beilein said. “I don’t care if you’re going to Maryland, or you’re going to Nebraska or you’re going to Minnesota, there’s still going to be travel.”
The distance may be exhausting in-season, but could prove to be an advantage in the offseason for Michigan.
“I always thought it was hard to get some of the kids from the Metro-Atlantic area to drive by the Marylands, the Georgetowns, the Villanovas to come to Michigan,” Beilein said. “Some of them, they’re really looking forward to that. They want to get away from home.
“But other kids it’s hard for them with the emphasis on unofficial visits. If Maryland wants you, then, between the drive between him and Ann Arbor, sometimes that’s a difficult ‘get.’ ”
Michigan basketball has at least one connection to the Terrapins — a familiar face. Former Wolverine forward Evan Smotrycz transferred to Maryland last spring after his sophomore season and is sitting this season out per NCAA transfer rules.
His last year of eligibility will come in the first year that the Terrapins play in the Big Ten. Depending on how the schedule shapes up, Smotrycz could have one final return to Crisler Center on the docket.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon didn’t tell Beilein about the move prior to the announcement, but it was a frequently addressed topic, and one that the sixth-year Michigan coach is pleased with.
“We talked expansion often before,” Beilein said. “Maryland was one name that people had heard talked about, not from Dave, from people that talked about different options and especially the East-Coast market. We’ve gotten more into the Midwest, to go to the East Coast is a pretty good idea.”