As the Maryland basketball beat writer for The Sun for more than a decade, I always enjoyed making multiple trips to the state of North Carolina every winter. I saw Len Bias single-handedly give North Carolina its first defeat in a then brand-new Dean Dome. I witnessed the obnoxious Duke students at Cameron Indoor Stadium chanting “CBA ... CBA ... CBA ...” in the direction of future NBA player Walt Williams. I had a front-row seat for more than a few great ACC tournament games.
If college sports were still as much about basketball as football, those memories would continue, not only for me but for Terps fans, athletes and coaches.
But they’re not and haven’t been for awhile. Which is why Maryland’s association with the Atlantic Coast Conference – which will turn 60 next May, 19 days before I do – seems on the verge of ending with the anticipated move to the Big Ten. University president Wallace D. Loh is scheduled to meet with the school’s board of regents Monday, and while there is expected to be some lively debate, I think this is a pretty much a done deal.
Obviously there are many details to be worked out, and some serious explaining to do about how Maryland is going to be able to pony up the $50 million exit fee that was passed by the ACC last year despite Loh and his counterpart at Florida State voting against it. I’m sure the contract has already been drawn up that details how Maryland will get the necessary funds from the Big Ten to help cover its moving expenses.
Given the huge disparity between the annual payout per team between the ACC and Big Ten for their respective current television packages – as much as $10-15 million a year depending on which report you believe – it won’t take long for Maryland to make up the difference. It also won’t take long for Maryland fans to get fired up for their first game against Penn State since 1993 or their first trip to “The Horseshoe” at Ohio State and “The Big House” at Michigan (where the Terps played in Bobby Ross’ last season shortly after losing to the Nittany Lions.)
When I first heard this new round of rumors fire up Friday night and Saturday morning regarding the possibility of Maryland leaving the ACC, my initial reaction was the same as many. It didn’t make sense. But in truth, I couldn’t figure out why the Big Ten wanted a Maryland athletic program with a football team that has won six games the past two years and drew around only around 35,000 to Byrd Stadium Saturday for Florida State.
After talking with former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams Sunday, I began to understand why this was going to be a good move for the Terps and, possibly, for the Big Ten. Renewing the rivalry with Penn State in 2014 – with the Nittany Lions in the third year of the four-year NCAA probation and down a couple of dozen scholarships – couldn’t have been timed better for Maryland. And while the ACC will be better in basketball by then with the addition of Syracuse and Pitt, the idea of Maryland’s natural travel partner being the Panthers still turns the stomachs of longtime Terps fans.
Instead of going to Greensboro, N.C., nearly every year for the ACC tournament, Maryland fans will get either Chicago or Indianapolis. Instead of occasional trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium for those lucky enough to score tickets, you will get equally historic Assembly Hall at Indiana. (I know that those who travel with the Terps are not happy about giving up those 70-degree afternoons in Durham in late February for 30-degee afternoons in Bloomington.)
I understand that the cost of taking the non-revenue teams to places like Iowa City and Lincoln, Neb., will be much more expensive than even Miami and Tallahassee, but Maryland’s Olympic sport teams can save a few bucks by actually giving out a few more in-state scholarships. Who really cares aside from the players and parents if those teams (with the exception of lacrosse and to a lesser extent, women's basketball) go deep in the NCAA tournament? Just go through the rosters of some of the 17 remaining non-revenue sports to see how many athletes from out of state attend Maryland.
But as Williams pointed out in our conversation, the Big Ten Network actually broadcasts these sports nationally to some 82 million households. The success of the Big Ten Network is perhaps the single biggest factor pushing this move: with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, as has been mentioned, the Big Ten will add New York and Baltimore/Washington to what has been a very short list (Chicago, Detroit) of major television markets dominated by places like Champaign, Ill., West Lafayette, Ind. and East Lansing, Mich.
Considering how some of his closest colleagues haven’t been able to reach him lately, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson has apparently agreed to stay silent on the proposed move until it is announced, presumably this week, jointly with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If that’s not the case, Anderson and Loh should at least explain publicly why Maryland has to leave the ACC because its television package is not as lucrative as the Big Ten and because the Terps have long been treated as the unwanted Yankee cousin by those in the Tar Heel State.
The ACC used to be a basketball league, with football taken seriously by the folks at Clemson every year and in other places, including College Park, every few years depending on the team's record. Most of the good football coaches at Maryland – and there haven’t been that many - left because they felt that football was a second-class citizen. Every BCS league is now dominated by football – for better or worse – and every moving decision is dictated accordingly.
Heck, do you really think Notre Dame is joining the ACC for a 5-game football season because it can't wait to play Boston College and Wake Forest every year? (On second-thought, where would the 11-0 Fighting Irish be without the ACC this season?)
This move – nearly 60 years after Maryland joined the ACC – is no different.