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Maryland accepts invitation to Big Ten, Rutgers expected to follow

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 19, 2012

The Big Ten keeps getting bigger. The University of Maryland Board of Regents voted Monday to accept an invitation to leave the ACC and become the 13th member of the Big Ten Conference. Rutgers is expected to follow suit on Tuesday.

Maryland, one of the eight founding members of the ACC in 1953, will be an official member of the Big Ten beginning July 1, 2014 and will begin competition in the conference in the 2014-2015 academic year.

The move was announced at a press conference Monday afternoon in College Park, Md. with University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, Brit Kirwan, University System of Maryland Chancellor, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany present.

In his opening remarks, Loh declared the transition to the Big Ten a “watershed” moment for the Terrapins.

“Membership in the Big Ten Conference is in the strategic interest of the University of Maryland,” Loh said. “It will not only ensure the financial vitality of Maryland athletics for decades to come, but the extensive opportunities in the CIC for collaborations with our peer AAU and flagship universities in education, research, and innovation will boost the University of Maryland’s ascendancy in academic excellence.”

After approval from the Maryland Board of Regents, the Big Ten Council of Presidents unanimously approved Maryland on Monday morning. Delany said the council was “giddy” to receive the Terrapins’ application.

“Some people fear the turtle,” Delany said. “We embrace the turtle.”

University President Mary Sue Coleman, a member of the Council of Presidents, knows Loh well from his time serving as provost at the University of Iowa from 2008-2010 and Kirwan from his tenure as The Ohio State University president from 1998-2002.

“We have enormous respect for the University of Maryland, and we think that this is going to be a very good alliance over time,” Coleman said.

The transition to the Big Ten is seen as a largely financial decision for both parties. Maryland has faced severe cutbacks due to a multi-million dollar budget deficit in recent years. It has also eliminated seven varsity programs — men’s and women’s swimming, men’s cross country, men’s indoor track, acrobatics and tumbling, men’s tennis and women’s water polo.

Loh said sitting down with Anderson to explain which teams would be cut was “perhaps the most painful thing we’ll ever have to do.”

“No future Maryland athletic director will ever have to look in young men and young women's eyes and say you can't compete, you can't wear the colors of the school, because we can't support you financially,” Anderson added.

The Big Ten has the most lucrative television contract in college athletics, with each member receiving $24 million cut last year. The Big Ten Network could earn up to an additional $200 million if it were added to basic cable packages in Washington, D.C. and New York City with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, according to ESPN.

“The membership of the Big Ten enables us to guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time,” Loh said, adding that the athletic department had been surviving “paycheck to paycheck.”

Maryland also faces a $50 million exit fee to leave the ACC, though the school is in negotiations to lower the fee.

Maryland senior Andy Magee — a member of the men’s tennis team that had its funding cut last summer — said in a telephone interview that the staggering figures have raised some eyebrows. He said the response from Terrapins students as “all negative, 100-percent negative.”

“All my friends are pretty much athletes,” Magee said. “And they are saying they came here to play in the ACC and not to go play in the Big Ten. A lot of it is just money-driven and, ‘We just cut sports, how are we getting this money?’ It’s not overly excitement.”

Loh clarified later that Maryland intends to reinstate some of the disbanded programs with the increased revenue gained from joining the Big Ten. Maryland now fields eight men’s and 10 women’s programs.

Maryland has now become one of two schools to leave the ACC. South Carolina was the other, leaving in 1971 to become an independent; the Gamecocks are now members of the SEC.

“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland. Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement.

Maryland journalism senior Eric Morrow said the Terrapins will be an “interesting fit” in the Big Ten.

“It’s probably the most southern out of all the schools, but I think it will be a good match,” Morrow said. “I think it will be a good experience. My dad always joked that I would end up going to a Big Ten school, and here we are.”

“I understand why we’re doing it, but I think a lot of people are sad to see change come,” added Maryland communications and public relations junior Caroline Niski, “but a lot of times it’s just something that’s inevitable.”

Michigan has had little exposure to Maryland in the athletics landscape. The football teams played three times between 1985 and 1990, with the Wolverines winning all three contests. The Terrapins have an all-time 4-44-1 record against Big Ten opponents, with most of those appearances up against Pennsylvania State University.

Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten Leaders Division, while Illinois will move into the Legends Division, ESPN reported.

With a date with undefeated Ohio State on the docket this Saturday, Michigan football coach Brady Hoke stayed mum on the conference expansion.

“Right, now, I think Ohio may be a little more important,” Hoke said at his Monday press conference.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said the expansion helps Michigan expand to reach alums and fans in the Baltimore-Washington market. He feels Maryland was a good fit for the conference.

“Although we’re very proud of our Midwest-centric tradition, there’s a lot of growth, in fact more growth, in other regions of the country and the fact that we’re moving into some of those areas over the long haul will be very positive for this conference,” Brandon told the Detroit Free Press.