COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Choosing to look toward the future rather than honor the past, Maryland joined the Big Ten on Monday, bolting from the Atlantic Coast Conference in a move driven by the school’s budget woes.
Maryland was a charter member of the ACC, which was founded in 1953. Tradition and history, however, were not as important to school president Wallace D. Loh as the opportunity to be linked with the prosperous Big Ten.
“By being a member of the Big Ten Conference, we are able to ensure financial stability for Maryland athletics for decades to come,” Loh said, speaking at a news conference with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and athletic director Kevin Anderson.
Loh and other school officials involved in the decision decided that the potential money to be made in the Big Ten was more significant than the $50 million exit fee and the tradition associated with belonging to the same conference for 59 years.
“I am very aware that for many of our Terps fans and alumni, their reaction is stunned and disappointed. But we will always cherish the memories, the rivalries, the tradition of the ACC,” Loh said. “For those alumni and Terp fans, I will now say this: I made this decision as best as I could ... to do what is best for the University of Maryland for the long haul.”
Maryland eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year, and Loh said the shift to the Big Ten could provide enough of a windfall to restore some of those sports.
Delany said Maryland’s entry was approved unanimously by the conference’s 12 presidents.
“Quite honestly, they were giddy,” Delany said. “Maybe some people Fear the Turtle. We embrace the Turtle.”
Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member starting, in July 2014. Rutgers is expected follow suit by today, splitting from the Big East and making it an even 14 schools in the Big Ten, though Delany would not confirm that.
But he had no problem explaining why the Big Ten would be interested in stretching its boundaries from the Midwest.
“We realize that all of the major conferences are slightly outside of their footprint,” Delany said. “We believe that the association is one that will benefit both of us.”
For Maryland, the move was not entirely based on athletics. Maryland will join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of world-class research institutions.
“For me and for the board and for the faculty and for the students, the academic component is very, very important,” Loh said.
“I would not have made this kind of deal if it was a conference that did not have this consortium.”
But money was really the driving force.
“Somebody has to pay the bills,” Loh said. “I want to leave a legacy for decades to come, long after I’m gone, that no president is going to wonder if Maryland athletics as we know it is going to survive.”
Loh said the discussions between Maryland and the Big Ten gathered steam two weeks ago. On Saturday, it became clear the discussions were serious.
Maryland gives the Big Ten a presence in the major media market of Washington. D.C. Rutgers, in New Brunswick, N.J., and about 40 miles south of New York City, puts the Big Ten in the country’s largest media market, and most heavily populated area.
Delany said demographics were a huge part of this decision.
The population is not growing as quickly in the Big Ten’s current Midwestern footprint as it is in other areas of the country, and it has hampered the Big Ten’s ability to recruit, especially in football, its signature sport. The Big Ten felt it needed to change that.
For both schools, the move should come with long-term financial gain. The Big Ten reportedly paid its members $24.6 million in shared television and media rights revenues this year.
David Wilkins, chairman of Clemson’s Board of Trustees, said he does not expect to see more teams leaving the ACC as a result of Maryland’s move.
“I don’t think this will have a domino effect. The teams that are strong in football are committed, I believe, and I think the ACC is solid.”
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