Maryland grabs big bucks in joining Big Ten

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Local,Maryland,Liz Farmer

The University of Maryland voted Monday to join the Big Ten athletic conference, a move that will give a multimillion-dollar revenue boost to an athletics program that recently cut several sports programs, but one that some of the school's alums saw as an abandonment of cherished Atlantic Coast Conference rivalries.

School officials painted the decision as a move toward financial stability for the athletics department, which has an independent budget, and an academic boost for Maryland. But they also acknowledged the change it means for longtime Terps.

"We will always cherish the rivalries, the traditions, the memories of the [Atlantic Coast Conference]," said University President Wallace Loh. "I made this decision as best as I could ... Our one objective was to do what is best for the University of Maryland."

Coming back?
In July, Maryland cut seven sports teams to close a budget deficit. On Monday, school officials said some of those teams may be able to come back.
• men's and women's swimming
• men's tennis
• women's water polo
• acrobatics and tumbling (competitive cheer)
• men's cross-country
• men's indoor track and field

With Maryland leaving a conference it helped found more than half a century ago, some Terps wondered what Maryland sports will look like after the school moves in July 2014.

Drew Needham, a senior in College Park, Md., said he doubted he would become a season ticket holder after graduation because he wouldn't get to regularly see the match ups he's enjoyed as a student.

He added the secrecy in which the regents voted in a closed-door session Monday morning to join the Big Ten created suspicion.

"They did it, in my opinion in a very sneaky way," he said. "This isn't something that was done in the last few weeks, this is something that takes years to coordinate."

Fans of both the Terps and various Big Ten schools panned the move on ESPN's college football blog.

"Being from Maryland and growing up watching those games against Duke, Carolina, and even U.Va., I have to say it's a sad day for Maryland and a sad day for college traditions," said one. "The B1G fans don't want Maryland and Maryland fans don't want the B1G," said another.

But the move makes financial sense, officials said.

According to reports, the Big Ten has the most lucrative television contract in college sports, with each member receiving more than $24 million a year. That's far more than the $17 million ACC schools like Maryland receive.

For the Big Ten, the Midwestern conference will gain access to the Baltimore/Washington television market, the nation's ninth-largest.

Maryland will have to pay a $50 million league exit fee, a charge the school voted earlier this year against increasing from $20 million. But university officials say the amount, which might be negotiable, pales in comparison with what the school could gain as a member of the Big Ten.

Officials declined to say where they would find the funds for the exit fee, except to say the cost was factored into the decision to leave the ACC.

University System Chancellor William Kirwan said the move wasn't just about money for athletics -- the school would become part of the Big Ten's academic consortium.

"There is nothing to match this level of academic collaboration except ... in the Ivy League," he said, adding it advances Maryland's academic initiative.

But Bob Leffler, a sports marketing consultant and founder of the Leffler Agency, said at the end of the day, Maryland made a business decision.

"It's like an earthquake -- the ground's moving," he said. "It's about money."

Terp athletics has struggled under a deficit in recent years as it has grappled with less revenue while paying off a $50 million expansion of Byrd Stadium. Earlier this year seven sports teams were cut in order to close a multimillion dollar deficit.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Farmer

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner