COLLEGE PARK—Setting aside almost 60 years of athletic tradition in a quest for greater financial stability, the University of Maryland will join the Big Ten Conference, school and league officials announced Monday after a weekend of whirlwind negotiations.
In another of the massive conference shifts that have defined college sports in recent years, Maryland will join the traditionally Midwestern Big Ten in 2014, leaving behind the Atlantic Coast Conference, which the university helped found in 1953.
The move is an emotional one for students, athletes and alumni, many of whom were raised on fierce rivalry games between Maryland and ACC powers such as Duke and the University of North Carolina. But the millions of dollars in additional revenue from the Big Ten’s television deals was too great for Maryland officials, who cut seven sports this year in hopes of closing a $4 million deficit in the athletic department budget.
At an afternoon news conference on campus, university president Wallace Loh described the move as a “watershed moment” that will “ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for years to come.” He added that a new influx of revenue would allow the university to restore teams that were cut earlier this year for budget reasons.
In detailing negotiations that lasted about two weeks, Loh and athletic director Kevin Anderson said the university’s coaches were initially stunned by the possible move and acknowledged that many students and alumni are unhappy.
“At first, it was like going through all the processes of grieving,” Anderson said of his meetings with coaches.
“I’m very aware that for many Terp fans and alumni, the reaction is stunned,” Loh said. “I made this decision as best I could, in consultation with key stakeholders and after doing due diligence. There was only one objective: do what’s best for the University of Maryland.”
Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to endorse the move Monday morning after being briefed Sunday by Loh. The Big Ten’s Council of Presidents then quickly approved Maryland’s application for admission. The startling shift was a done deal less than 48 hours after negotiations became public knowledge.
Big Ten commissioner James E. Delany described his presidents as “giddy” in approving Maryland’s application. He said that as a flagship university representing a demographically rich state that’s contiguous to existing Big Ten territory, Maryland is a perfect addition. “I know there’s some ambivalence and maybe some anger,” Delany said in addressing Maryland fans. “But I hope that over time, we can embrace each other and realize that we can be better together than we were apart.”
The jump could come with a hefty initial price tag of $50 million, the cost of exiting the ACC as approved by the conference’s schools earlier this year. University system officials said Monday they weren’t sure how much Maryland would end up paying or how the cost would be covered. Loh said the university has a plan and that details would be worked out in private negotiations with ACC officials.
But system leaders said the long-term financial benefits of joining the Big Ten would outweigh the initial financial hit.
“We've got to look to the future,” said state regent Patricia Florestano in explaining the vote.
Maryland was expected to receive about $17 million a year in shared television revenue from the ACC once the league expanded to include Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh in 2013. Big Ten schools will each receive about $24.6 million this year, according to a May report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and analysts say that number could rise with expansion.
With Maryland and the expected addition Tuesday of Rutgers University, the footprint of the 14-team Big 10 would stretch from the East Coast to Nebraska, with major television markets such as New York, Chicago and Baltimore/Washington included.
That geographic reach will give the Big Ten greater leverage when it negotiates a new media rights deal in 2017. It will also allow the already-prosperous Big Ten Network to charge higher rights fees from East Coast and Mid-Atlantic cable distributors, said regional network analyst Lee Berke, CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, Inc.
“They might be able to double their fees in many markets, which would allow a substantial leap forward financially for the schools,” Berke said. “Overall, there’s great upside for Maryland to make this move in terms of geography, television and finances.”
Berke said it’s too early to put an exact figure on how much Big Ten schools will profit from expansion. A Sports Illustrated report Monday said Big Ten officials had told Maryland it could add almost $100 million by 2020 in the conference switch.
Maryland officials said they were also enticed by the prospect of joining an academic consortium of Big Ten schools known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which pools research assets.
“I support the move largely because of what it means to the university academically,” said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Kirwan has spent most of his career in Maryland, including a stint as the president at College Park, but he also served as president at Ohio State University in the Big Ten.