Maryland jilts the ACC, bolts for Big Ten

The school, a charter member, is only second to leave conference

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

  • The ACC after Maryland Boston College Clemson Duke Florida State Georgia Tech Miami North Carolina N.C. State Virginia Virginia Tech Wake Forest Joining in 2013: Pittsburgh Syracuse Joining by 2015: Notre Dame

The Atlantic Coast Conference, a league long known for its tradition and stability, is losing one of its charter members.

The University of Maryland, in a move that surprised some in the ACC with its stealth and swiftness, announced Monday it was leaving to become a member of the Big Ten Conference in 2014.

Since the ACC was created on May 8, 1953, only one school had withdrawn – the University of South Carolina in 1971. Even in the ever-shifting landscape of college sports the past few years, the ACC has held strong.

The ACC recently announced the addition of Notre Dame, which will join the league as a full time member in all sports but football and hockey by 2015. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving the Big East Conference for the ACC next year.

The move out of the ACC could be a costly one for Maryland – the ACC has a $50 million exit fee. But Maryland President Wallace Loh said the decision was the right one.

“This is a watershed moment for the University of Maryland,” Loh said. “I decided to do what’s best for the University of Maryland in the long haul.

“I am very aware that 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.”

The Terrapins’ athletic department has been running large deficits, causing the school to trim seven of its 27 varsity sports this year. In the Big Ten, Loh said, the school will “be able to ensure financial stability for Maryland athletics for decades to come.”

The Big Ten, bolstered by its ultra-successful Big Ten Network, distributed more than $24 million to each of its 12 schools last year. The ACC, which signed a new 15-year, $3.6 billion contract with ESPN in May, should pay out roughly $15 million to each of its schools next year, according to The Washington Post.

$100 million windfall

SI.com reported Monday that Maryland by 2020 will make $100 million more by being in the Big Ten rather than the ACC. SI.com said it received the financial projections Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany presented to Maryland leaders.

“That’s a staggering amount,” said Joe Pratt, a 1979 Maryland graduate and district leader of the Raleigh Terrapin Club. “The Big Ten offers the opportunity to take care of some problems that developed the last couple of years and get us back to being competitive. To me, it’s the right thing to do.”

ESPN reported Monday the Big Ten would announce Tuesday it was adding Rutgers as a 14th member. Delany would not comment Monday on the report.

Maryland will not join the Big Ten until the 2014-15 school year, and athletic director Kevin Anderson conceded it could result in awkwardness with its ACC brethren during the transition.

‘Best wishes,’ ‘big mistake’

“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit.”

N.C. State Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who directed the Maryland athletic department from 1994 to 2010, declined to comment Monday.

Wolfpack football coach Tom O’Brien said Maryland’s decision “caught a lot of people by surprise.”

“Each school is intent on doing what’s best for itself,” O’Brien said Monday. “Obviously Maryland felt that was best in moving forward.”

Maryland Chancellor William (Brit) Kirwan said it’s possible the Terps would reinstate the sports eliminated with the added resources.

Not all the reaction was positive.

“I think it’s ridiculous, a big mistake,” former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell said Monday. “At Maryland it’s all about money. This was done solely for money and that’s not what college athletics is about.”

Maryland and Florida State were the two ACC schools that voted against boosting the league exit fee from $20 million to $50 million. Loh said the “exit sum” would be “discussed in private” with the ACC and indicated it could be negotiated lower.

The move was approved by the Maryland board of regents Monday morning, and Loh said he called Swofford about noon. Former Terps basketball star Tom McMillen, a regent, told The Washington Post he voted against withdrawing.

McMillen was a part of arguably the greatest basketball game in ACC history – N.C. State’s 103-100 overtime win over Maryland in the 1974 ACC championship game in Greensboro.

“He played in the league, he understands the league, he knows,” said Driesell, the Terps coach in 1974 and one of the league’s most colorful personalities.

Maryland’s withdrawal comes a little more than two months after the ACC announced the addition of Notre Dame. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will become ACC members on July 1, 2013.

Changes to come?

There was speculation Monday that the ACC could quickly make another move to expand. Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida were schools mentioned as possibilities by CBSSports.com.

Delany said Maryland’s move was part of the “paradigm shift” in college athletics that has “all major conferences slightly outside their footprints.

“Change kept happening,” he said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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