In the end it was a no-brainer.
When the University of Maryland Board of Regents voted overwhelmingly Monday morning to accept the official invitation to join the Big Ten conference, there were plenty of opinions. Most of the naysayers were traditionalists that pointed to 60 years of tradition as a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and traditional rivalry games with Duke and North Carolina on the basketball court.
The other side had plenty of ammo as well.
To begin with, a change in conference would mean a migration to schools of a similar kind – large state schools with impressive academic credentials. They also pointed to the fact that alignment with the league would lead to the improvement of the Maryland football team to the point where it can compete in the Big Ten. The basketball programs – already Big Ten ready- would have a made for TV home schedule with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana that would lead to great rivalries in short order.
Oh, yeah, there was also money involved. Actually it wasn’t just money... it was serious, serious cash.
If it were only about the expected increase in television revenues from the ACC to the Big Ten (approximately $8-10 million per year) then the University President Dr. Wallace Loh and the board may have thought twice about pulling this trigger.
Then add to that millions and millions of dollars the school will receive as part of a consortium arrangement with Big Ten schools to share federal research dollars. It’s the kind of money that will insure the stability of both the university and the athletic department.
Maryland officials must have felt like they had just hit the Powerball.
If you’re on the Board of Regents – whose primary job is to oversee the operations and fiscal well-being of the University system – and you ended up voting against this then you probably would have some explaining to do.
I’m like a lot of Maryland sports fans and I can get wistful over memories of great Terrapin plays and games. One of the things I love most about Maryland fans is the way they mark the times of their lives around seminal Terp games (e.g. “my daughter was born the day after Steve Blake stole the ball from J. Williams just before halftime at Cole Field House).
I get that. And I get the angst around the move. For many fans the relationship with the ACC amounted to a first love or romance.
The problem is that the ACC that we all knew and loved changed irrevocably in 2003 with the addition of Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami. The move was done solely for football purposes and completely changed the way the ACC schedule worked on the basketball side of things. Gone was the simply perfect model of playing every team home and away each year. Because of the numbers, the league had little choice but to introduce an unbalanced schedule that eliminated most home and homes.
With Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame all joining the ACC in the coming years those “rivalry” games would be fewer and further between. Maryland, for instance, could only count on seeing Duke and North Carolina at the Comcast Center every two years.
So much for romance.
Dr. Loh and Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson inherited a fiscal albatross from their predecessors that they could never have foreseen. That they have acted so quickly and so forcefully to secure the financial future of both the university and the athletic department is laudable and they deserve credit.
Loh was particularly forceful during the press conference and spoke passionately about the University’s financial status, the pain of having to cut several sports in the past year to trim costs in the athletic department and, most importantly, about his vision for the school. At one point he said his job was to chart the future and not be overwhelmed by it.
You would be hard-pressed to find a lot of University presidents with a similar kind of courage.
At one point a student reporter at the press conference asked why the process had not been conducted in a more open, public forum. The answer to that, of course, is that an open forum would lead to a complete paralysis of the process. The Board had been tasked to study this kind of opportunity with diligence and the future of the University in mind and acted accordingly.
Progress can be uncomfortable some times and institutions like a large public university can be particularly change averse. Ultimately the opportunities for real progress rarely come in such a compelling and obvious package as the one that was presented to the Board of Regents.
They were right to take it and the University will be far better for it in the long run.