The former Terps quarterback, who was a part of three straight ACC championship football teams from 1983 through 1985, also knew he had little choice but to accept the decision.
Even Monday, as he joined a couple of hundred alums, administrators and fans at the Under Armour Brand House in Harbor East to celebrate Maryland officially joining the Big Ten on Tuesday, Gelbaugh seemed to be more resigned to the change than rejoicing about it.
"I think it's going to happen," Gelbaugh said hesitantly, when asked for his feelings about the move. "We have to support 'em because they're Terps. My legacy obviously for the last 35 years has been with the ACC, so I'm going to miss that. It is what it is now. I'm looking forward to some of the new rivalries, travelling to some of the new stadiums and new cities."
Gelbaugh wasn't alone in those feelings.
As Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany welcomed athletic director Kevin Anderson and the Maryland coaches in attendance — with similar festivities taking place at Nationals Park on Monday night and in College Park on Tuesday — Terps fans are still mixed in how they feel about the switch of leagues after 61 years as a founding member of the ACC.
"Originally I was sad, that's a good word to use, that we're not going to be affiliated with the ACC anymore," said Mike Wolek, a 1992 graduate who lives in Annapolis. "But the closer we got, the more excited I became because I think it's a good move for the school."
But Wolek is not quite sure how the school's two revenue sports — football and men's basketball — will fare initially in the Big Ten.
"If we were in the middle of the ACC, we're in the bottom of the Big Ten, but I think it [moving to the Big Ten] can only help us," he said. "I think it's a big pull for athletes to come to the University of Maryland now that we're playing some of these Big Ten schools."
Tim Watts, a 1999 graduate from Catonsville who joined Wolek at the Under Armour event Monday, said he has embraced the move since it was announced in November of 2012.
"I was excited from the beginning," Watts said. "The ACC at it stands now is not the ACC that I grew up with. With all the influx of Miami and Virginia Tech, now you have Syracuse and Louisville, it's not the same league. I think Maryland has a great opportunity in the Big Ten because there's a lot of cachet with the names. I don't think we're going to struggle that much. I think we're going to compete."
Anderson told the gathering in Baltimore that Delany and others welcomed the Terps before they officially became a member and "never treated us as an outsider,."
The ACC was long accused by Maryland fans of favoritism toward North Carolina schools.
Two indications of the Big Ten's commitment to Maryland, as Anderson pointed out, were forming a Big Ten lacrosse league — with an invitation to local rival Johns Hopkins to join as an associate member for lacrosse — and the decision to bring the 2017 Big Ten men's basketball tournament to Washington.
"Today is a great day to be a Terp," Anderson said.
Delany, who played basketball at North Carolina in the 1960s and has been the commissioner of the Big Ten since 1989, called the buildup to Maryland joining the league "a terrific experience."
He said that the 118-year old Big Ten has been a "great conference" for decades but starting Tuesday "it will be a greater conference after tomorrow with Maryland as our newest member."
Rutgers is also joining the conference, which will now be able to promote its brand more heavily in major East Coast markets.
"It anchors the Middle Atlantic point with the greatest political city in the world [in Washington], topped off by New York City, the greatest financial city in the world," Delany said. We're going to have great competition. It's the beginning of something terrific."
Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, who grew up in Iowa and previously coached at Minnesota, said the two seasons of playing as a lame-duck member of the ACC have "given us time to expand our recruiting base into the Midwest. That's been really exciting to branch out."
Frese added that the move "doesn't change who we are at Maryland as far as being a Top 5 program" but that the fan support women's basketball receives at most Big Ten schools will help raise the profile of the program.
Brad Kretzler, a 2012 gradute who wore a Maryland football jersey to Monday's event in Baltimore, said he has gradually embraced the move to the Big Ten.
"I was just more worried about [men's] basketball than anything," said Kretzler, who is originally from Hagerstown but now lives in Baltimore. "I thought it was great for football, but I was going to miss the Duke rivalry and the Virginia rivalry. It is nice that we're playing Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge [in 2014-15]. Overall I think it's going to be good for the school."
The way the Terps were treated the past two years by what Kretzler kiddingly called "the All-Carolina Conference" — including not playing either Duke or North Carolina at home last season in men's or women's basketball — helped him get over his initial concerns.
Kretzler, a season-ticket holder for football and men's basketball, is looking to see some teams he has watched only on televison come into Byrd Stadium and Comcast Center.
"It's going to be a lot of fun. There's a lot more bigger-name teams," he said. "It's probably going to increase ticket sales. There's going to be a lot more sellout crowds than there's been in the past."
Gelbaugh said he is looking forward to one game in particular. Gelbaugh faced Penn State three times in his career, and though the Terps lost those games by a total of 11 points, he was part of what was a one-sided series (1-35-1) dominated by the Nittany Lions.
"I'm happy if we can beat 'em," Gelbaugh said. "We owe 'em a few."
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