Lawmakers are mirroring the reaction of other fans in both criticizing and praising University of Maryland officials for their decision to join the Big Ten Conference, leaving behind Atlantic Coast Conference tradition in the wake.
“I’m disappointed,” said Del. Patrick N. Hogan (R-Dist. 3A) of Frederick, who graduated from Maryland in 2002. “As someone who’s been a fan since I was a little kid, as an alumnus, I feel like they put money ahead of tradition.”
The long-standing hardwood rivalry between the Terps and Duke University that has led to packed arenas and occasional riots soon could give way to a gridiron rivalry with Penn State.
“While I’m disappointed, I’ll still continue to be a fan,” Hogan said. “I’ll just have to learn to despise new rivals.”
The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted Monday morning to move Maryland to the Big Ten Conference beginning in July 2014, university President Wallace D. Loh announced at a news conference later in the day.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors approved the university’s application shortly after the vote, bringing the university into a conference made up mostly of large, Midwestern public universities like Michigan and Ohio State. The next day, Rutgers University of New Jersey also joined the Big Ten.
“It’s a business decision, and from everything I’ve read, it’s a smart business decision,” said Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park, who served on the Board of Regents from 2001 to 2006. “Football and basketball subsidize the other intercollegiate sports, and they want to have a strong intercollegiate sports program. This can generate more revenue for those programs.”
Membership in the Big Ten means coverage by the conference’s television network, the Big Ten Network, which distributed $248 million to its 12 member schools this past year. The College Park campus’ membership also gives the network access to the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore media markets. Rutgers brings in the New York market.
Loh had been in serious talks with Big Ten officials for about two weeks before the decision was made, he said, although reports of the impending move did not surface until Saturday.
“There was no input from other stakeholders; the fans, the students, the coaches,” said Board of Regents member Charles Thomas “Tom” McMillen, a former Maryland basketball player and U.S. Congressman.
McMillen said he voted against the move Monday in the closed regents meeting, but would not disclose the final vote tally.
McMillen also warned of how the pressure on Maryland to be competitive could play out.
“I think in 10 years, the university will be spending more money on its athletic programs, more money on football, more money on basketball, and it will be right back where it started, struggling financially,” McMillen said.
At his news conference, Loh said the regents had been advised by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler that a closed session — in which the board typically discusses contracts and personnel issues — was warranted.
But on Tuesday, the nonprofit Student Press Law Center wrote that the regents had violated Maryland’s open meetings law by giving no advance meeting notice and voting behind closed doors.
McMillen said that Loh and other university officials were required to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of the process, a requirement that is generally part of negotiations between conference commissioners and schools, he said.
“We spent 60 years with the ACC as a charter member, and we couldn’t even pick up the phone to talk to them about this,” McMillen said.
Representatives of the ACC, which was founded in 1953, did not return calls requesting comment.
“I made this decision as best as I could,” said Loh, who guided the process. “This will ensure the financial stability of [University of Maryland] athletics for decades to come.”
Although the school would get a take of the Big Ten revenues, the ACC voted in September to increase exit fees from $20 million to $50 million.
Loh said the university would have discussions with the ACC about the fee, but would not specify whether the university would fight it in court. Loh voted against raising the fee in September, he said, based on “legal and philosophical grounds.”
Some funding from the university’s membership in the Big Ten will be used to reinstate teams that recently had been eliminated, although Loh did not specify which teams or when that would happen.
The move also puts Maryland in a position to join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a research consortium made up of Big Ten members plus the University of Chicago that fosters academic collaboration. Loh stressed the academic benefits of the move at the news conference.
‘We want a paradigm whereby athletics supports the university,” Loh said. “The academic component is very important.”
Additional funding also will be earmarked for need-based scholarships, Loh said, as part of the university’s effort to make higher education affordable.