1:01 PM EST, November 20, 2012
Let the news sink in: The University of Maryland is headed for the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
Even 72 hours after it became public knowledge that the school was negotiating to join the Big Ten and a day after it was made official, that's still pretty hard to believe. Hook up with those football powerhouses in the Midwest? Wasn't Maryland a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference? What happened to six decades of tradition?
Small wonder that many Maryland fans, students, athletes and boosters are angry about what can only be described as an abrupt decision. When Maryland's athletic department was facing financial hardship last year and contemplated cutting whole varsity teams (and eventually did eliminate seven), a special committee was formed, and there were months of deliberations.
Apparently, choosing a conference doesn't require such investigation or public involvement. From start to finish, the negotiations reportedly took just two weeks. Maryland professors take longer than that to grade undergraduate term papers. And perhaps the next ones to be assigned should cover the topic of transparency in governance.
Why so much secrecy? Why so quickly? The likely explanation is that UM President Wallace D. Loh, athletic director Kevin Anderson and others at the school recognized that the decision was bound to stir vocal opposition. Better to make the choice and take the criticism afterward than put the whole deal at risk.
But here's the rub. It's probably the best choice for the school. When critics claim "it's all about the money," they are exactly right. It's all about the money. Membership in the Big Ten is far more lucrative than the ACC because the TV broadcast rights are more valuable. That's a good thing — and will likely lead to restoration of some of those programs cut last year.
Maryland will likely have to pay to get out of the ACC — up to $50 million. But that will come out of these new revenues. By state law, not a dime of taxpayer money can be used for the athletic programs. So on the one hand we expect Maryland athletics to be self-sustaining, but on the other, we'll condemn them for a "money grab?"
It's also amusing to hear such fond memories of membership in a conference more than one Terrapin fan has described over the years as the "All Carolina Conference." Maryland may have felt an intense men's basketball rivalry with Duke University, but the feeling was not necessarily mutual. It was always Duke versus the University of North Carolina. The ACC's heart was firmly in Tobacco Road.
Make no mistake, we have fond memories of some amazing ACC games in various sports, men's and women's, but the Big Ten is no slouch. Even those die-hard men's hoops fans may want to look at the latest polls that show three Big Ten teams (Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan) ranked above the highest ranked ACC team (Duke). Men's lacrosse? Well, that's another story.
Nearly lost in the kerfuffle are the academic advantages offered by Big Ten membership. Those schools, along with the University of Chicago, form a consortium that allows them to share resources among the campuses, including a vast library of digital content. That's why you won't hear much criticism about the decision from the College Park faculty.
Maryland won't be the last school to jump a conference ship. In recent years, it's been a veritable game of musical stadiums and arenas. The ACC itself is hardly recognizable from when it was formed in 1953. (How many remember when South Carolina left in 1971?) In a decade or two, Maryland fans will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. It's just a shame that the public wasn't given much opportunity to learn about the move until it was a fait accompli. If the University of Maryland truly wants to become as beloved in the hearts of Marylanders as schools like Michigan and Ohio State are in their states, rushing through a decision — and leaving so many stakeholders out of the loop — is simply not the way to go about it.
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