Conference Realignment & The University of Maryland 2

In May 2010, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) wrote the following:

“Rumors of the University of Maryland being considered for Big Ten expansion has been a topic on Maryland message boards for years. As Big Ten expansion desires have come to the surface in recent months, seemingly half of the University’s across the country have been rumored as possibilities.

Yesterday, the Washington Examiner wrote about why an invitation to the Big Ten could become a reality for Maryland:

You can understand why Maryland would be attractive to that conference. They would gain entrance to the Washington / Baltimore media markets, add a strong academic school, and hurt the ACC in the process.

Prior to the new ACC TV contract (mentioned in the Washington Examiner article) it made more sense for Maryland.

Terrapins Athletic Director Debbie Yow has previously stated that Maryland would not look to leave the ACC. However, the Athletic Department still has trouble keeping afloat financially, and the Big Ten TV Network would make the entire department more profitable.

The flip-side to that is for major college athletics, what matters is the Football and Basketball teams.

I’ve never cared for the style of play of Big Ten basketball, but obviously it is always a quality league. Michigan State has obviously been exceptional under Izzo, Indiana has long-term pedigree, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, and Wisconsin are typically quality teams. Michigan and Minnesota are capable. Penn State, Northwestern, and Iowa have been traditionally poor though.

The Terrapins have been the 3rd-best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference for well over a decade. They would enter the Big Ten as one of the legitimate powers.

On the football field, Maryland is in the Atlantic Division of the ACC with Florida State, Clemson, BC, Wake Forest, and NCST. It is hard to imagine the Terps ever overtaking FSU as a football program, or having a fan-base that is as invested as Clemson. Still, that remains a division where on an annual-basis the Terps can contend. I fully expect 3 out of 10 years for the Maryland to win that division and advance to the conference title-game.

Maryland has comparable facilities and investments in football as those schools. When I start to think about Maryland in the Big Ten, I seem to automatically think about the football stadiums at Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Even if those programs have not really been any better than Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech over the last-several decades, the scope of those Big Ten programs are enormous.

Someone should be asking the recruiters under Coach Friedgen if they believe recruiting to the Big Ten would be an easier or harder sell overall.

There are two main reasons in my eyes of why this would probably not happen. 1) The largest donors to the MD Athletic program, want the Terps to remain in the ACC. Their opinions would have to be changed, before such a move could be made. 2) The increased travel can not be ignored. Maryland has often been at a disadvantage compared to their conference neighbors in North Carolina with travel within in the ACC. The Terps would be looking at a longer, costlier road-trips with life in the Big Ten.

While I do not think it will happen, I would caution Maryland fans from completely dismissing the possibility. You can bet that a comprehensive review of all the potential positives and negatives are taking place, and if the dollars and cents point to the Big Ten; it would not be shocking to see this happen.”

In May 2012, BSL wrote:

“Two years later, a lot has changed. Coach Williams and Coach Friedgen are gone. Maryland has also obtained a new Athletic Director, and University President.

The College landscape has (and continues) to change as well. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have agreed to leave the Big East to join the ACC. An overview of the many other moves can be found here.

Within the last week plus, there has been a lot of attention paid to comments made from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Florida State, who stated the board was unanimously in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might offer.  Since that came out, FSU and their University President have issued statements, reaffirming FSU desire to remain part of the ACC. The President’s memo actually listed the pros and cons of leaving, with more positives for staying being listed.

However, since that occurred; the Big 12 has reached agreement with the SEC for the formation of a bowl game between those respective Conference Champions. That game will be cash-rich, and has seemingly increased the gap between the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 foursome, with the ACC and Big East as football conferences.

Last night, a Clemson blogger (Cory Fravel) stated that his sources have confirmed that Clemson has agreed in principal to join the Big 12.

While I think that the ACC breaking part is unlikely, it does seem at-least plausible. You can craft scenarios where teams in the ACC could leave the league for the Big Ten, SEC, and Big 12. Let’s say the Clemson rumor is accurate, and FSU was now tempted to join the Tigers in the Big 12. Would the SEC react by pursuing NCST, or VaTech? (Either a new media market in Raleigh, or another strong football program.)

If the ACC lost 3-4 programs (somewhat off-set by adding Syracuse, and Pitt), would that make UNC, Duke, UVA, and MD more likely to pursue affiliation with the Big Ten? (And in a potential nightmare scenario for MD, what would be the remaining options for the Terps, if the Big Ten wanted just two schools, and took UNC and Duke only?)

After seeing the Big 12 / SEC deal, Pete Fiutak wondered about the ramifications of that move in his article on Fox Sports, stating:  “Will this force the ACC to try to make a big move to find a higher profile bowl alliance to try to set up its own ready-made playoff game? Will this make the Big Ten look further into expansion and finally tie the knot with Notre Dame, Maryland, Rutgers, or any of the other programs that have been in the discussion over the last few years?”

In a Q&A on the Big Ten Network, Tom Dienhart was asked, “With Florida State considering looking into joining the Big 12, would it be wise for the Big Ten to offer Notre Dame again or go after other schools like Georgia Tech?”

Dienhart answered by saying, “Uh-oh, here we go again. Look, the Big Ten is NOT expanding—at least for now. I sat right next to Commissioner Delany last fall—and he basically said as much. Just because other leagues are expanding or adding teams—ACC, Big 12, SEC—the Big Ten won’t follow along like a lap dog to just expand because “everyone else is doing it.” Delany always emphasizes the Big Ten will only add a school that makes sense. Would Notre Dame make sense? No doubt, but the Irish already have told the Big Ten “no” twice. I am intrigued by Georgia Tech being a target. The same goes for Maryland. Each is a good academic school. And each would expand the Big Ten into new, heavily-populated regions which would benefit the footprint of the already successful and profitable Big Ten Network. There are so many moving parts on the conference landscape as I type this. Again, Delany will continue to monitor the situation. I guarantee you that. But he won’t act hastily—if he acts at all.”

Two years ago I thought a jump to the Big Ten was unlikely, but cautioned MD fans to not dismiss the possibility. Two years later, I basically feel the same way. With the way the landscape has changed around the Terps, I do think Maryland would be right to preemptively approach the Big Ten and at-least discuss things. Clearly the Terps would prefer to remain part of the ACC. That said, MD can not wake up two years from now, and be the ‘last man standing’ in a depleted league.

On our message board, the poster ‘jsh’ has made several posts which I think make a lot of sense. He said he believed you could see the ACC reach an agreement with Notre Dame to play each other in the Orange Bowl as long as Notre Dame has X amount of wins or is ranked in the Top 10 or 15. He also said that should the Big Ten miss out on getting Notre Dame to join that Conference, you could the Big Ten be interested in taking each of MD, UNC, Duke, and UVA. It would be a knock out punch to the ACC, leave the Big Ten as the premier basketball conference, and give the Big Ten the addition of additional media markets.

That idea is fairly attractive. If the Clemson rumors are not true, the most attractive scenario for the Terps to me is a more secure ACC. The best way to secure the ACC, would be growing to 16 teams. The two Universities which make the sense to me are Notre Dame, and UConn. While Notre Dame has resisted Conference Affiliation to date, there is a feeling what with the impending College Playoff (which might be limited to Conference Champions), and the Big 12 / SEC deal; that ND might finally be forced to make a move to a Conference. If that is accurate, the Big Ten would be the favorite to add Notre Dame, but the ACC would be a close 2nd.

As of last September, the US News & World Report rankings of the current ACC schools (plus Syracuse and Pitt) were:

10) Duke
25) Virgina
25 tied) Wake Forest
29) North Carolina
31) Boston College
36) Georgia Tech
38) Miami
55) Maryland
58) Pittsburgh
62) Syracuse
68) Clemson
71) Virginia Tech
101) Florida State
101 tied) North Carolina State

West Virginia made a lot of sense for the ACC (geographically, natural rivals, football and basketball success), but because of their ranking (#164 according to US News & World Report), they were never offered by the league, and thus jumped to the Big 12.

Notre Dame was 19th in those rankings. UConn was ranked 58th. So, both Universities would fit in academically, as well as athletically. If Notre Dame was unwilling to join the ACC, Rutgers still makes some sense. They are an academic fit (68th), and you would add the NYC media market. Some remain squeamish about adding both UConn and Rutgers, saying  you gain little by adding both.

The addition of both Notre Dame and UConn would give the ACC the opportunity for true ‘North’, and ‘South’ divisions.

The ACC with Notre Dame, and UConn:

ACC North: BC, UConn, ‘Cuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, Maryland, Virginia, Virgina Tech
ACC South: UNC, Duke, Wake, NCST, Clemson, GaTech, FSU, Miami

Is UConn a football power? No, of course not. However, Maryland fans are well aware that Coach Edsall built that program up from nothing to a BCS bowl. Every year, there are stories asking if Notre Dame will ever again be ‘relevant.’ It is a different world than when Notre Dame was a perennial National contender, but they are still a National program. Notre Dame is only a few years removed from having back-to-back top recruiting classes. They still move the meter as a program.

Obviously UConn would add another basketball power, and cement the ACC as the premier basketball playing league. ND has had plenty of basketball success as well.

It is clear that there are lots of variables for Maryland to be weighing here. As a fan of the Terps, how would you answer the following questions?

1) The best case scenario for Maryland long-term is?
2) The worst case scenario for Maryland long-term is?
3) In 5 years, the ACC will look like?”

 

Now, in November 2012, it looks like we are on the verge of seeing the University of Maryland leave the ACC for the Big Ten. As the above discussion shows, this is not a rash decision, but something that has likely been debated at College Park for several years. Still, as it gets closer to fruition, it is still hard to believe in some respects.

When Notre Dame joined the ACC in all sports but football and hockey (agreeing to play 5 ACC teams in football per year), the other big news was that the exit fee to leave the ACC had been increased to $50M per University. Even though Maryland was just one of two ACC schools to object to the increased exit fee, it had been my opinion that the increased fee would end any discussion of Maryland ever leaving the conference. Obviously I was wrong.

Without being privy to all of the information that the powers that be would be aware of, I think you can guesstimate at parts of the equation for Maryland leadership. For the Terrapins to leave the ACC, the following must be true:

1) There must be additional millions in research dollars available, as being part of the Big Ten consortium.

2) The dollars as being part of the Big Ten Network must be tremendous. At-least enough to bring long-term profitability to a department that has struggled as a whole. I would guess the logic would be that Maryland feels the entire department will be more profitable.

While I expect these two points must be true, a third possible point might be that Maryland feels the increased exit fee is negotiable and that they have legal recourse to see that fee lowered to a more tolerable amount.

If this move happens, I will personally be disappointed. I still don’t care for Big Ten basketball, and I still think Maryland would have to increase their funding for the football program. I also still have concerns about the loss of identity, and the increased travel for Maryland teams overall.

Still, I would understand the move. The bottom-line is that money talks, and the financial bottom-line for Maryland’s Athletic program has been a concern for some time. If the decision makers at Maryland feel that can be improved by moving Conferences, it is hard to intellectually disagree with them, even if emotionally I do.

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About the author


Chris Stoner   

Operations Manager

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, ESPN 1300, FOX 1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.


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