ACC commissioner John Swofford denies any acrimony toward Maryland

The Baltimore Sun

Nearly a year after Maryland announced its athletic teams would leave the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the Big Ten in 2014, ACC commissioner John Swofford said in interview Wednesday that there is no ill will despite lawsuits that are pending between the school and the league.

During the ACC's men's basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Swofford told The Baltimore Sun, “I wish them well. I hope that it turns out to be a good decision for the people of Maryland. We have moved on in our way this year [with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame] and beyond [with Louisville coming in next year].”

Swofford downplayed any acrimony, and strongly rejected the suggestion that the reason neither Duke nor North Carolina will be playing this season in College Park in men's basketball stemmed from Maryland’s decision to bail on a league that it helped found in 1953.

“They’ve got Syracuse, and I think they have Pitt also [at home]. They have two outstanding basketball teams coming in,” Swofford said. “That’s maybe when you are leaving, maybe you just naturally have that feeling. That’s just not the case.”

Swofford said the ACC will treat the Terps no differently than any other team.

“This year, we just want their athletes to have the same type of quality experience we would always hope they would have at any other school. It doesn’t change anything,” Swofford said. “Ultimately how you feel [personally] about it really doesn’t particularly matter or change anything about it. We’re going to do our business as we do it, regardless, one way or the other. It gets back to what I said about the athletes’ experience, that’s what it’s about at this point in time.”

That Maryland announced its decision to leave without informing Swofford or any other ACC officials has been thought to be a point of contention. Swofford acknowledged Wednesday that “I was surprised, I think everybody in our league was surprised,” but he added that there were no hard feelings despite the league fighting Maryland in the courts over a $52.3 million exit fee.

The ACC filed suit against Maryland over the exit fee in a North Carolina court last November. Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler filed a countersuit in January after the ACC withheld $3 million in television revenue from the school. The Maryland suit seeks $157 million in damages.

“[They knew of] the obligation of paying an exit fee that is part of our constitution and bylaws,” Swofford said. “Maryland obviously was a founding member of the league and an important member of the league, 60 years in the league, but that was a choice they made.”

Though the decision in September of 2011 by Syracuse and Pittsburgh to join the ACC also surprised officials at the former Big East, and led to the league eventually dissolving, their exit fee was just $7.5 million. Rutgers, which announced that it was leaving the Big East for the Big Ten, had to pay $10 million when the Big East doubled its previous exit fee after losing the first two schools.

In contrast, the ACC raised its exit fee from between $12 million and $14 million prior to Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining, to $20 million and then eventually to its current figure. 

Asked what the difference was between the way Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East and how Maryland announced its departure from the ACC, Swofford said, “I think you’d find each one of those, if you peel back the banana, would be different, and I’d leave at that.”

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