As it prepared to join the Big Ten Conference in 2014, the University of Maryland had high hopes for its football team.
The school believed the football-centric conference — known for traditional powerhouses such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — would help Maryland grow its fan base, its athletic fundraising and its imprint on the Baltimore-Washington region.
The school wanted to begin closing the gap between its past reality in the Atlantic Coast Conference — middling attendance and records — and its vision of sold-out Big Ten home games in the future.
While the athletic department is reaping dividends from Big Ten revenue sharing, detailed department budgets — obtained in a Public Information Act request — show the large investment in football is not elevating the team's profile as planned.
Even before the death of 19-year-old Terps player Jordan McNair, fan interest in football seemed to wane. Records show year-over-year declines in football ticket sales revenue and outside donations to the team. Ticket sales revenue of $6.6 million in the 2017 fiscal year barely surpassed what the team recorded in its final season in the ACC.
The football team costs the university far more than any other sport, and the school has invested millions in two big capital projects — the new $196 million Cole Field House that opened in 2017 and the football stadium's $50.8 modernization in 2009.
The team's success is critical to the university because it helps support many other of the lesser-known intercollegiate teams.
Maryland Athletics Budget
The team's recruiting had been improving the past few years, but McNair's death has halted that momentum because parents are uncertain what type of environment exists around Maryland football, or who the coaches will be.
Some analysts believe Baltimore-Washington is a difficult area in which to engage college football fans because there are so many other sports teams and cultural diversions.