SBD/November 20, 2012/Colleges

Maryland Officially Announces Move To Big Ten; Hopes To Bring Back Eliminated Sports

Loh and Delany (c) pose with Maryland coaches after Big Ten announcement
In another of the "massive conference shifts that have defined college sports in recent years," the Univ. of Maryland will "join the traditionally Midwestern Big Ten in 2014, leaving behind" the ACC, according to a front-page piece by Walker, Barker & Korman of the Baltimore SUN. 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." UM President Wallace Loh described the move as a "watershed moment" which 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." Loh and UM AD Kevin Anderson in "detailing negotiations that lasted about two weeks," indicated that school coaches were "initially stunned by the possible move and acknowledged that many students and alumni are unhappy." UM faces a $50M exit fee for leaving the ACC, and university system officials yesterday said that they "weren’t sure how much Maryland would end up paying or how the cost would be covered." Loh said that UM "has a plan and that details would be worked out in private negotiations with ACC officials." Walker, Barker & Korman note the move to be Big Ten is "likely to be seen as a defining moment for Loh," who came to UM two years ago from Big Ten-member Iowa. Loh "inherited an athletic department in financial turmoil because of disappointing revenues in football and men’s basketball and debt from a $50.8-million facelift to Byrd Stadium" (Baltimore SUN, 11/20). In Baltimore, Ryan Sharrow reported that Under Armour President, Chair & CEO Kevin Plank, a UM alum, "will not contribute" to the ACC exit fee. UA VP/Global Brand Communications & Entertainment Diane Pelkey said that "rumors speculating that Plank would financially back the Terrapins’ move to the Big Ten in 2014 'are completely false'" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 11/19).

PARADIGM SHIFT: SI.com's Pete Thamel noted Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany "cited the shifting college sports landscape and the potential market benefits as the reasons behind the Big Ten's latest expansion." Delany said, "Eventually, it was obvious to us that the paradigm had shifted and it was necessary to start looking." Delany said that the league "plans on setting up offices on the East Coast, although he said he's not aware of a specific location yet" (SI.com, 11/19). Delany said, “The underlying tectonic plates in college athletics were very warm and what we saw continue to happen was expansion by conferences outside their region. ... We just felt that it was important for us to at least explore the possibility of adding a rich demographic base” (Big Ten Network, 11/19).

GIVING SOME SPORTS A SECOND CHANCE
: Loh said funding UM receives from the Big Ten, and Big Ten Network specifically, will "guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time." In DC, Alex Prewitt notes UM in July "announced the discontinuation of seven varsity sports as it sought to offset a multimillion-dollar deficit within the athletic department." But Loh and Anderson have become "absolutely committed to begin the process, to reinstate some of the teams" that were terminated. The sports cut were men’s and women’s swimming, men’s tennis, women’s water polo, acrobatics and tumbling, as well as men’s cross-country and men’s indoor track & field. Men’s outdoor track & field was "saved from the chopping block after a successful fundraising campaign, which is ongoing to ensure its permanent survival" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/19). In DC, Mike Wise writes there was "this unbecoming defiance from Loh and the others" during yesterday's news conference. Loh "spoke passionately about the pain of having to tell athletes in tennis and swimming and diving ... that the university no longer could fund their programs." Loh "assured" that the move to the Big Ten "would result in the restitution of those sports and their scholarships." Wise: "Well, kind of." As questions "became more specific, Loh’s and Anderson’s responses became murkier." Wise: "You wanted to save everyone time and just blurt out, 'Guys, it’s really okay, tell them: This was about football and TV money, not the survival of competitive cheerleading'" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/20).

FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS: In N.Y., Lynn Zinser notes Loh yesterday said that UM's athletic department was "living paycheck to paycheck and acknowledged that the financial windfall of joining the Big Ten ... was more than enough to persuade the Terrapins to leave the conference they have called home since it was formed in 1953" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20). SI.com's Andy Staples noted UM by staying in the ACC could "expect to make between $20-25 million per year from the league." In the Big Ten, which "has its own cable network and probably will set a new all-time high when it renegotiates its Tier 1 television rights in a few years, the distribution will be closer to $40 million a year beginning" in '17. Staples: "Unless you can think of a better way for Maryland to bring in an additional $15-20 million per year, quit being so sentimental about it" (SI.com, 11/19). THE DAILY's John Ourand said, "If you're looking at it from a dollars and cents point of view, there is only one decision to make" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 11/19). In DC, Rick Snider writes at least Loh "admitted leaving the ACC was largely about money." This is "what happens when outsiders are hired to run things." They "don't care what locals want. Indeed, Loh defended the secrecy about the decision by saying the public's input shouldn't be a factor" (Washington EXAMINER, 11/20). In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd writes under the header, “Dollar Signs Blind Maryland Officials In Move To Big Ten” (Baltimore SUN, 11/20). Former UM basketball coach Lefty Driesell yesterday said, “At Maryland, it’s all about money. This was done solely for money and that’s not what college athletics is about” (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/20). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes it is a “move made out of desperation as much as anything by an athletic department with the crushing debt load of a third world country, one slashing programs left and right” (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/20). In DC, Tracee Hamilton wrote even with an "increased windfall from the B1G, Maryland probably still won’t be able to break even." Only a "few dozen Division I teams manage to do that," so UM is "spending $50 million for the opportunity to stay in debt -- to which they can add $50 million” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/19).

SETTLING THE MASSES: In DC, Svrluga & Prewitt in a front-page piece report the reaction from "many Terrapins fans and students was decidedly negative as their school abandoned its longtime affiliation with like-minded and nearby institutions for a new but ill-defined relationship with schools that to many seemed far away and unfamiliar" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/20). In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein writes Delany is "clearly aware that many Maryland alums cherished being a charter member of the ACC -- and that some Big Ten fans believe their product has been watered down." Delany said, "I know there is some ambivalence, and I know there may be some anger. But I hope that over time we can embrace you, that you can learn to be our partner and that together we can become much better than we are without each other" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/20).

DELANY PADDING HIS LEGACY: ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil wrote college sports “became about the commissioners, about their egos and their legacies, about the aphrodisiac-laced cocktail of power and greed.” The addition of UM to the Big Ten is “merely the latest in the ultimate testosterone-measuring party to see who can lay claim to the Most Powerful Man in College Sports” (ESPN.com, 11/19). The Chicago Tribune’s Greenstein said, "I never thought the Big Ten would expand just for the sake of expansion, but that’s exactly what’s going on now. Jim Delany just wants to be bigger for money and TV purposes, and all those presidents and chancellors trust him because he hasn’t made a bad decision” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 11/19).

NETWORK NEWS
: Delany was praised for the addition of UM by various Big Ten Network analysts yesterday. BTN's Howard Griffith said adding UM “shows us just how in tune” Delany is “when you talk about being out in front of expansion." Griffith: "He’s been there and he also has a great idea of where he wants this to go.” BTN's Glen Mason said conference realignment is “in total, complete flux, so you’ve got to be thinking about it all the time.” Delany deserves a “lot of credit to be proactive rather than reactive.” BTN's Chris Martin: “This is an economic coup and it just shows you yet again Jim Delany … is a brilliant strategist” (Big Ten Network, 11/19). In Chicago, Herb Gould writes, “Not surprisingly, a platoon of Big Ten Network analysts applauded the Maryland acquisition.” KFAN-AM host Dan Barreiro tweeted, “Based on early reaction from Big 10 analysts, Delany trails only Gandhi, Mandela, MLK among visionaries.” However, Gould notes ESPN analysts were “not afraid to use their harpoons.” ESPN’s Bruce Pearl said, "I just don’t understand it. They talk about student-athlete welfare. How’s the road trip from Maryland to Nebraska going to be for the volleyball team or the fans who want to travel?” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/20).
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