SBD/November 19, 2012/Colleges

Maryland Board Of Regents Approves Move To Big Ten; Rutgers Likely To Follow

Maryland could negotiate down the ACC's $50M exit fee
The Univ. of Maryland's Board of Regents this morning "voted unanimously to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference," and an official announcement is expected to come this afternoon, according to sources cited by McMurphy & O'Neil of ESPN.com. Sources said that Rutgers Univ. is "expected to follow the Terrapins and will announce its own move from the Big East to the Big Ten, possible as early as Tuesday." When UM will make the move is "unknown, but sources at the school believe the Terps will be able to negotiate the current $50 million exit fee from the ACC to a lower amount." It was thought the $50M exit fee could be a "stumbling block," as the school has "recently dropped sports because of budget issues" (ESPN.com, 11/19). In DC, Alex Prewitt in a front-page piece reports UM's move to the Big Ten will "likely set into motion another round of realignment in college sports, as the major conferences seek stability through greater numbers and financial enrichment through lucrative television contracts." Multiple ACC ADs seemed "blindsided by the news, citing a lack of communication between the University of Maryland and the conference at large" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/19). Former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan yesterday said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" by UM's pending move. Corrigan said, "I don't get it. I don't get it at all. It just blows me away. They're a charter member of the ACC, they're not just a member" (Baltimore SUN, 11/19).

PLANK SUPPORTS MOVE: ESPN.com's McMurphy, O'Neil & Katz reported Under Armour President, Chair & CEO and UM booster Kevin Plank is "100 percent" behind the school's move. A source said Plank is "heavily involved behind the scenes with board members." Plank "declined comment ... but insisted he is not involved in Maryland's athletic decisions." A source said that "there is not a consensus among Maryland athletic department officials" (ESPN.com, 11/18). But ESPN college basketball analyst and UM alum Len Elmore "expressed concern that the decision was driven exclusively" by President Wallace Loh and AD Kevin Anderson, neither of whom have "had any real affinity with Maryland pride." Elmore added, "Anything that's driven solely by dollars, it'll turn out badly. ... This is not a decision solely to be made by the athletic director or the president. This thing is moving so quickly, I can’t see how they consulted members of the constituency" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/17).

STUDYING THE CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS: In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein reports the additions of UM and Rutgers to the Big Ten would "be largely about one word: demographics."  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany "studies population shifts." U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Michigan's "population shrunk 0.08 percent from April, 2010 to July, 2011," ranking 49th among U.S. states. Ohio was 47th. Illinois 42nd. Pennsylvania 41st. Wisconsin 37th. Indiana 34th. DC had "the nation's largest growth rate, at 2.7 percent." More than "7 million people live in the greater Baltimore-Washington market," while nearly 9 million "live in New Jersey, and Rutgers is the state school" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/19). The WASHINGTON POST's Prewitt in a separate piece noted a move to the Big Ten would "be an economic boon" for UM's athletic department. A source said that the school also is "considering the move because of academics." The source said that opportunities for "expanding research in the agricultural, biotechnological and engineering fields ... presented an enticing allure for Maryland" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/18).

PENNY PINCHING: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck noted the UM athletic department "has spent the past few years trying to figure out what to do about mediocre attendance and suite revenues at Terps football games, and there's little question that regular visits from some of the nationally popular Big Ten powers would fill up Byrd Stadium and justify all the money spent on renovating Tyser Tower" (Baltimore SUN, 11/18). In DC, Liz Clarke notes both Rutgers and UM are "running deficits in athletics, making them prime takeover targets." As a member of the ACC, UM "can expect to receive roughly $17 million in its annual league payout once Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference." As a member of the Big Ten, it would "be guaranteed closer to $24.6 million" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/19). ESPN.com's McMurphy, O'Neil & Katz in a separate piece cited a source as saying that the Big Ten "has been itchy about further expansion since Notre Dame made its official move to the ACC two months ago in all sports other than football." The source said that the Big Ten can "justify Maryland and then possibly Rutgers since they are all contiguous states to the Big Ten footprint" (ESPN.com, 11/17). In DC, John Feinstein writes, "Either way, shelling out $50 million or even half that (if Maryland can bargain with the league) isn’t going to look good for a school that just dropped seven sports because of a budget crisis." That "doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though, because long term, Maryland stands to make back the $50 million and more in only a few years" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/19).

THE DRIVING FORCE: One television exec called the reports regarding UM's move "highly surprising." The exec said that the likely motivation "would be so the Big Ten Network could expand its viewership" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/18). In Newark, Tom Luicci wrote for Rutgers, a move "from the Big East to the Big Ten would mean a lucrative TV deal and a chance to be in one of the five power conferences" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 11/18). SI.com's Pete Thamel wrote the "answer is simple: television and money." A northeast TV exec said that the move "could ultimately be worth as much as $200 million annually for the Big Ten in cable subscription fees." This is a "Pollyannaish figure that's unlikely to ever materialize, but it shows the scope of the potential value." There are an "estimated 15 million available households in the New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. markets." If BTN "got on basic cable in all those places, which is an enormous long shot, the per-household figure by the time Rutgers and Maryland joined the league would project in the neighborhood of $1.25 per month." That would "equate to about $200 million per year." Considering the "struggles the Pac-12 has had with DirecTV and the distribution issues surrounding the Longhorn Network, it's clear cable subscribers automatically handing over distribution is far from a given" (SI.com, 11/18). Meanwhile, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said, "I must say, part of what makes me think it may be true is the acquisition of YES earlier in the week by Fox. It feels like all of that may tie together, if you're gonna go east. Don't know that. I have no information. But when I heard the rumor, that was one reaction I had to it: Hmm, wonder if those things are related." Swarbrick added, "If this occurs, this particular outcome does not come as a surprise" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/18).

GAMBLIN' MAN: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote the move for Delany "is his biggest gamble yet in running a conservative, often staid, band of mostly Midwestern land-grant behemoths." Rutgers and UM "do bring TV sets for the Big Ten Network to be placed on basic cable tiers, and thus generate millions in additional revenue." The money from "potentially being able to jam the Big Ten Network into the home of every cable subscriber in each state (combined population: 14.6 million), is significant" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/17). CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wrote for now "it is the strangest expansion news since this latest go-round started in December 2009." This "has to be about the Big Ten Network, Delany's baby." BTN is "currently throwing off $100 million in profits for 12 teams each year." At best UM and Rutgers "raise that total just a little bit. At worst, they bring 'pro rata' which means equal value." Unless the "age of superconferences really is upon us and the Big Ten is going to lead the way." Suddenly, we are "talking some serious BTN dollars with the conference in states with at least 35 percent of the U.S. population." The per-subscriber rate could "go from 10 cents -- that was the rate outside the Big Ten footprint when BTN launched in 2007 -- to maybe 50 cents." Dodd: "What Saturday's news told me is that the Big East is done, kaput" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/17).

FAN REAX: SI.com's Stewart Mandel wrote the "overwhelming reaction from Maryland fans upon learning Saturday of their school's planned move to the Big Ten was one of disapproval." More than "70 percent of respondents to a Washington Post poll asking whether Maryland should join the Big Ten voted 'No.'" In a similar Baltimore Sun poll, more than half "tabbed the possibility as 'a bad move.'" Fans have "seen no shortage of awkward marriages in realignment these past two years, but this may be the first move where the few individuals spearheading it may be among the only ones that actually want it to happen" (SI.com, 11/18).
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