COLLEGE PARK — A year ago, coaches representing the University of Maryland's 19 athletic teams lined up across the back wall of a meeting room in the student union, all dressed in red.
The plan, according to an internal email, was to present a "visual display of unity" behind university President Wallace Loh as he publicly announced the school's move to the Big Ten Conference after 60 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But the reality is that two of the school's most prominent coaches had reacted strongly against the decision in private, while others were stunned, according to interviews and emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a Public Information Act request.
Among those initially troubled by the decision were men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, two of the best-known figures in the school's athletic program.
"I did get a call from Mark Turgeon who is very opposed to this," Barry Gossett, a regent and top donor, wrote in an email to Chancellor William E. Kirwan on Nov. 18, 2012, the day before the announcement. "He said all the coaches he has talked to, except [football coach] Randy [Edsall], are upset and opposed. Brenda did talk to me last week expressing concern and was not warm to the idea."
Turgeon and Frese say they now support the move, which will occur in July.
"Like any new change, it took some time to digest," Turgeon said via text message. "But after learning more about what the conference offers, I'm looking forward to the challenge of competing in the Big Ten."
Turgeon had decorated his office a few years ago with the logos of the ACC's schools and the phrase "Premier College Basketball Conference in the Nation" in block lettering on one of the walls. He and Frese were surprised by word of the conference shift.
"Initially, I was caught off guard that it actually happened," Frese said in a text message. "What I quickly reminded myself is that change is a part of life and people who adapt to it can be successful, while those who resist it get left behind. We then played a game at Nebraska and it reminded me of the great fan bases in the Big Ten."
Gossett's email to Kirwan was sent during a time when Maryland students, alumni and fans were just learning about the Big Ten negotiations. The Sun reported last month, based on emails obtained in an earlier public-records request, that Maryland administrators planned a public-relations campaign in November 2012 that included planting positive comments about the move on fan message boards.
The newly obtained emails indicate internal concern about the move that seemed the equivalent of an intrafamily disagreement.
Even as Loh announced the move, some of the coaches behind him wore solemn expressions. But none of the coaches interviewed that day expressed strong regret about the decision.
In an interview last week, Gossett recalled receiving a phone call from Turgeon and meeting with Turgeon and Frese at a basketball banquet last year.
"I think initially it was sort of a shock to everybody, and they didn't know all the facts," Gossett said. "I was in an awkward position because they wanted me to oppose it.
"Mark and Brenda … sort of cornered me individually and said they were opposed, and [asked] what did I know about it. Their thoughts, I think, were that they were both entrenched in trying to win the ACC championship and move on to the NCAAs. And this was something that probably hadn't crossed their minds. How could they change conferences? They were focused on [beating] the other coaches in the conference. Now they have decided [the move] is a good thing to do."
Gossett said other coaches he spoke with initially said: "Oh, my gosh, what is going on here?"
James L. Shea, the chairman of the board of regents, said this week that such early concern didn't surprise him because "actually, my initial reaction was uncertain as well. I think a lot of people have come around."
Edsall said last week: "I think I'm on record as saying what I thought it meant for our program, the athletic department and the university in general."
Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, who chairs a committee of the university's coaches, said in a recent interview that he hasn't "heard any negativity other than in the first few days, when everyone was shocked."
Cirovski said lacrosse was "the one we were all concerned about," because the ACC is a powerhouse in the sport. But he said those fears have dissipated with the Big Ten's plans to add lacrosse as an official sport and to include Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member for men's lacrosse.
Maryland will make nearly $100 million more during its first six years in the Big Ten than if it had remained in the ACC, according to internal emails. Financial stability was a major impetus for the move.
But Maryland officials had pledged to the Big Ten to keep details of the negotiation private. So, when facing early criticism about the move from boosters and fans, the school said it was unable to provide specifics about the financial benefits.
On Nov. 18, 2012, Kirwan wrote in an email to an official in Loh's office: "I'm in no way suggesting it but if people begin to feel the emotional price and turmoil is too high, there is an easy exit."
Kirwan said last week that the email comment came after word of the move had been reported by the media, but before the deal was completed.
"I was just reflecting the fact that until Wallace signed on the dotted line, there was no move," Kirwan said. "If people began to feel the price was too heavy to pay in terms of relationships within the University of Maryland family, there was no obligation to go forward with it."
Kirwan said he is now confident that the decision "was the right one in my view, and I think subsequent events and growing fan support have proven that to be the case."
The emails acquired by The Sun — some of which were redacted to hide information deemed by the state attorney general's office as privileged — contained other noteworthy items:
• At the time of the decision, financially strapped Maryland considered taking out a $30 million loan. The school is potentially facing a $52 million fee for leaving the ACC, and the purpose of the loan would have been "to offset the exit fee," according to a November 2012 email from Thomas Faulk, of the state attorney general's office, to Kirwan and Shea.
"I think it did come up as a possibility, that's my recollection," Shea said this week. "I think that was bandied about."
But the loan option was not finalized, school officials said, and no exit fee has yet been paid. Maryland has challenged the validity of the fee in court.
• After the Big Ten decision was finalized, Shea expressed concern about Maryland's "toxic" fan culture during some ACC games and said he hoped the atmosphere would improve in the Big Ten.
"For some time, I have been bothered that these 'traditional rivalries' have provoked toxic reactions from abusive language at the games to riots and car burnings after victories," the regents board chair said in an email to Kirwan. "Maybe the most significant result will be that we have disrupted the fan base and that a new base, equally dedicated to excellence and success but more civilized, will take its place."
Shea said in an interview this week: "While there are a lot of great things about those [ACC] rivalries, my thought then was, 'Well maybe we can improve.'"
Kirwan, the former president of Maryland and Ohio State, said Terps fans' behavior at some games "concerns all of us. Having been in the Big Ten, I don't ever recall an issue of decorum. And I don't know a rivalry that is more intense than Michigan and Ohio State in football."
• Kirwan wrote in an email to Shea and Gossett that he was "mortified" that the Board of Regents violated the state's open meetings law. The regents had convened to discuss the Big Ten offer. Officials acknowledged afterward that they had broken state law by failing to notify the public about the details of the meeting.
"In the rush to pull things together no notice was sent out about Sunday's or Monday's meeting," Kirwan wrote to Shea and others on Nov. 20, 2012. "I am mortified that this occurred."
• Kirwan and other top officials hope the University of Maryland, Baltimore can become a member of the Big Ten's academic consortium. The Committee on Institutional Collaboration allows its 15 members — including the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago — to share opportunities for research and studying abroad.
"I don't think that issue [of UMB membership] has been broached yet," Kirwan said. "It would be my hope that maybe that someday could occur."
Kirwan said in emails that the consortium was a major selling point in the school's decision to join the Big Ten.
"There was less and less identity with the [ACC] schools, other than in athletics," Kirwan wrote in an email to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a research and watchdog group he co-chairs. "The Big Ten, on the other hand, is a conference of peers, major public [Association of American Universities] research universities, plus Northwestern."
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.
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