By Jeff Barker and Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
6:30 AM EST, November 17, 2013
COLLEGE PARK — In recent weeks, University of Maryland staff members have hiked around their sprawling campus, taking inventory of every field, court and wall where "Atlantic Coast Conference" or "ACC" appear.
There is Byrd Stadium's football field, where "ACC" appears in red, block letters crossing the 25-yard lines. There is the white "ACC" inside the red lanes of Comcast Center's basketball court. There are the logos of every ACC school, prominently displayed across a white wall in the office of men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon.
By the middle of next year, they will all be gone.
A year after Maryland announced that it would leave the ACC, the school is rapidly preparing to make its new home in the Big Ten Conference — a wealthy, Midwest-based league eager to expand its reach into the Baltimore-Washington television markets. Preparing for the July 1, 2014, move means tasks like replacing the ACC logos, scouting camera locations for the Big Ten Network at athletic venues and discussing travel schedules with the Big Ten to minimize student-athletes' missed class time.
The emotional and cultural transformation is more complicated.
Terps fans initially agonized over the loss of rivalry games in men's basketball against Duke and North Carolina. And in the months since, the planned move has cast off ripples that affect thousands of lives.
Student journalists at the school worry that their budget might be overburdened by the costs of covering road games in the far-flung Big Ten. Fans who travel for away football games are acclimating to the concept of November afternoons in Michigan rather than South Florida. Recruits are weighing whether the Big Ten is the best stage for them to showcase their skills.
The shock of the move has worn off, leaving behind a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty over the new world to come.
"Everywhere I go, there is more enthusiasm," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "There was a lot of history with the ACC. But let's go back to 2004, when the ACC changed and added new teams. The ACC that we once knew, we don't know anymore. The rivalries we've talked about, we don't play some of them for a year at a time."
Though critics of the move still surface on message boards and at public forums, much of the negativity has abated.
"My attitude is certainly not one of gloom and dread," said Gary Jackson, a retired Army major with a Ph.D. from Georgetown who travels with his wife to every road football game. "But there is an aspect of curiosity. What will it be like? How will we fit in? There are still a lot of unknowns."
Many of the university's coaches were as shocked by the move as anyone. But most look forward to it now, said longtime men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, who leads a council of Maryland coaches.
"One year later, there is a real positive energy and excitement for next year," Cirovski said.
He said he hasn't heard any negativity about the Big Ten from his players, their families or recruits since the first few days after the announcement. He added that his fellow coaches have shared similar experiences.
"It's not on their minds," Cirovski said of his current team, which is preparing for the NCAA tournament. "We've hardly even discussed or talked about it."
The school anticipated that leaving the ACC after 60 years would be jarring for students, alumni and other fans. Even before its negotiations with the Big Ten became public, Maryland had begun working on a public-relations campaign to soften the blow. The campaign focused partly on getting positive messages about the move onto social media sites, according to internal emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a public-records request.
A year later, the school — a founding member of the ACC — continues its efforts to ease anxieties and educate supporters about the move. The Big Ten even hired a multinational public-relations firm, Weber Shandwick, to help officials understand fan concerns at Maryland and Rutgers, which is also joining the conference next year.
For its part, the Big Ten is eager to get Maryland in the fold, said commissioner Jim Delany, who was in College Park earlier this month for a panel discussion about the move. Delany was frank in describing his excitement, not just at working with Maryland, but at giving his conference deeper access to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
"This is the greatest corridor, not only in the country, but in the world, when you think about quality high schools and institutions," he said.
Dollars and sense
Maryland has unfinished business with the ACC.
The school is defending itself against a lawsuit filed by the conference in North Carolina, with the ACC seeking an exit fee of $52,266,342. In court documents, Maryland has argued that, as an extension of the state, it has sovereign immunity, shielding it from lawsuits such as the ACC's.
Maryland has filed its own suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court. That case alleges that the exit fee is anticompetitive and should not be enforced. In June, a judge stayed the bulk of Maryland's suit, pending the resolution of the North Carolina case.
Money prompted Maryland's conference switch. Sports Illustrated reported last year that the university stands to make nearly $100 million more in conference revenue during its first six years in the Big Ten.
Emails obtained by The Sun confirmed that university officials expect the additional revenue to be about $98 million. Anderson said the money will allow a cash-strapped athletic department to balance its budget within five years.
But if the university has to pay the full ACC exit fee, the expense could mitigate the early benefits of the switch. Delany has said the Big Ten will not defray any potential costs from the exit fee.
Anderson recently cast the benefits of the move on a larger scale, arguing that the Big Ten will help give the university a global profile because of the conference's widely distributed cable network and its big-picture media savvy.
Even those who have criticized the university's initial handling of the move concede that it seems to make long-term business sense.
Former Maryland basketball star and congressman Tom McMillen, who sits on the Board of Regents, said he understands the financial reasoning behind the move.
But McMillen, who participated in the panel discussion with Delany, made it clear that he's still troubled by aspects of the change's execution.
He said the decision happened so swiftly and with such focus on money that, like many big moves in college athletics, it couldn't account for the perspectives of student-athletes.
McMillen recalled how he chose Maryland in part because his ailing father could travel easily from his family's home in Pennsylvania to watch his games. If Maryland had shifted conferences midway through his career, the change would have been seismic for his family, McMillen said.
He argued that such human-scale concerns, along with details such as study time lost to travel, are overlooked in the plate tectonics of conference realignment, which often are driven by television deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We've got to take more account of the student-athlete," McMillen said.
Or perhaps the student who writes about the athletes.
The Diamondback, Maryland's independent campus newspaper, has long sent student reporters to cover every away game played by the football, men's basketball and women's basketball teams. But that tradition might be in jeopardy because of increased travel costs associated with the Big Ten move, said the newspaper's general manager, Michael Fribush.
"Yeah, it's going to impact us," Fribush said. "A lot of these places are off the beaten track. Most of these trips will be flights, so it doesn't come cheap."
Students have generally driven to cover conference games in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and flown to more distant ACC sites such as Florida State. But driving won't be an option for Madison, Wis., or Lincoln, Neb.
Fribush said he's spoken with counterparts at several Big Ten schools who maintain stricter travel policies because of the distances involved.
He said the impending reality hasn't fully dawned on students, who are busy covering Maryland's last season in the ACC. "It won't be on their radar until we have a game at the University of Iowa that's going to cost $2,500," he said. "That's just not feasible."
Could university assistance be an option for the financially independent publication? "Nothing has been discussed," Fribush said.
Travel costs are certainly on Jackson's mind. He became a Maryland football fan when his son enrolled at the university in 1995, and in recent years, the Montgomery County resident has gone to every game. He and his wife generally wait at the team hotel, where they don their Terps slippers, waive pom-poms and play the university fight song on a boom box as the players walk in from their bus.
Once, when the boom box wasn't working, a confused player put his arm around Jackson's wife and asked, "Where's the music?"
But given the cost of Big Ten trips and the fact that the couple is living on retirement money, Jackson isn't sure his perfect attendance record will last.
"I'm looking carefully at how many trips we'll be able to afford," he said. "Besides, where would you rather go? Minneapolis or South Beach?"
Not that he wants that to be taken as a slap at the conference shift.
"If you want to stagnate and die, don't ever try anything new," he said. "It it was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing. Where's the honor in easy?"
University officials say that whatever measures students and fans take to support their teams, Maryland's programs will be competitive on the field in the Big Ten. Delany said he expects that as well.
Cirovski, who has won two national championships in 21 years at Maryland, said there's no early indication the move has negatively impacted recruiting.
This past week, Turgeon signed the first four players in a men's basketball class generally rated among the 10 best in the country.
Football coach Randy Edsall's recruiting remains a work in progress, as some of the program's top targets remain uncommitted. (Football's signing period doesn't begin until Feb. 5.)
In men's lacrosse, a sport in which Maryland will move from the best conference in the country to a less established home, the Terps have signed the nation's No. 1 incoming class, according to Inside Lacrosse.
Delany said he can't fathom the Big Ten hurting Maryland recruiting.
"I think recruits want to play in a conference that has the stadiums we have," he said. "Our academic footprint is powerful. I think those things are what coaches sell."
Might recruits from the mid-Atlantic and Northeast look elsewhere because their families will have to travel farther for games?
"I think parents who travel to away games will travel anyway," Cirovski said. "It's not that much of factor."
Cirovski added that players are more concerned about what the university has to offer than the conference itself. If anything, he said, greater television money from the Big Ten might free him up to coach and recruit more rather than fundraise for his program.
"Selfishly, I hope that's one of the real outcomes," he said. "I can't remember any year when I thought we had the right budget to do everything we needed to do. I hope this takes that fundraising burden off the coaches."firstname.lastname@example.org
How Maryland got to the Big Ten Conference
Nov. 17, 2012: News breaks that Maryland is in serious discussions to join the Big Ten.
Nov. 19, 2012: Maryland announces its decision to leave the ACC for the Big Ten.
Nov 26, 2012: The ACC files a lawsuit against Maryland seeking to compel it to pay the conference exit fee of $52,266,342.
Jan. 18, 2013: Maryland files suit against the ACC alleging that the exit fee is unenforceable.
Feb. 16, 2013: Terps men’s basketball team beats Duke in what proves to be their final meeting in College Park as conference opponents.
Nov. 30, 2013: The Terps football team’s final ACC game, at North Carolina State.
March 9, 2014: The men’s basketball’s final regular-season ACC game, against Virginia.
July 1, 2014: Maryland will officially join the Big Ten.
Sept. 27, 2014: The Terps football team’s first Big Ten game, at Indiana.
Oct. 4, 2014: The Terps football team’s first home Big Ten football game, against Ohio State.
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