Switching to Big Ten would bring many complications for Maryland

Terps officials, boosters say leaving ACC is unlikely

June 14, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — Tom McMillen knows why the University of Maryland would be an attractive target to growing conferences such as the Big Ten.

"With 7 million people in the Baltimore-Washington area, that's a very attractive market," said McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents who starred in basketball at Maryland.

But McMillen — along with others associated with Maryland — expressed reservations Monday about schools bolting conferences for the lure of higher annual payouts from television revenue and other sources.

"It's the almighty dollar that's running the show," said McMillen, who introduced legislation to restore balance between athletics and academics while a member of Congress in 1991. "For Maryland to go into the Big Ten, [consider] just the travel. You might as well forget about those kids going to class."

The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that the Big Ten remains interested in Maryland, a large public research institution with a sizeable fan following in the overlapping Baltimore-Washington television markets.

The Big Ten's interest has placed Maryland in a sensitive position. While Maryland has often spoken of its loyalty to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the school believes it would be disrespectful to appear to be rejecting a Big Ten offer that has not been made.

Maryland has had no contact with the Big Ten, athletic director Debbie Yow said in an interview.

McMillen and others say Maryland couldn't simply ignore an offer from the Big Ten or other conference. But "I would think it would be very, very hard for Maryland to consider it" seriously, he said.

Maryland is comfortable with the ACC. Part of that is based on the school's perception that the ACC, which has been finalizing a new television deal with ESPN, is not in imminent danger of collapse.

While the Big Ten is a "terrific conference," Maryland is one of seven original ACC members "and we are happy in the ACC," Yow said Saturday.

Switching conferences would be complicated for Maryland because university president C.D. Mote Jr. is stepping down in August. Conference changes typically require involvement at the president's and regents' level.

Maryland is represented on an ACC committee that is monitoring conference realignment nationally and its implications for the ACC.

The possibility of Maryland leaving the ACC has been a much-discussed topic among Maryland boosters and fans.

"Two or three weeks ago I heard about that," said Bob Mitchell, chairman of Friends of Gary, which funds special projects for the Gary Williams-coached men's basketball team.

Mitchell said he encountered Williams recently, and the coach "smilingly mentioned to me, 'Are you ready for the Big Ten?'"

Mitchell said Williams was clearly joking, and that "within a day or two I heard that [Big Ten talk] is all foolishness, and that Maryland is not interested in that."

McMillen said he, too, saw Williams recently and that "we were talking about this whole thing and we were yearning to get back to the old ACC when we had the rivalries."

Williams was out of town and unavailable for comment, the university said.

Mitchell and others connected to Maryland said they would be concerned about the difficulty of fans and student-athletes traveling long distances to Big Ten venues in Nebraska, Iowa and other states. Maryland fans especially appreciate the ease of traveling to Virginia and North Carolina for ACC games.

While football and men's basketball players typically travel on charter flights, much of the other teams' travel is by bus. Maryland has 27 athletic teams.

Joining the Big Ten would provide Maryland more money for travel and other considerations. The Big Ten offers its members more than $20 million per year, according to multiple reports. Officials familiar with Maryland athletics say the ACC figure has been about $11 million and is due to increase under the new TV deal.

Nevertheless, extended conference travel means more time away from class. "The geographical grouping of conferences has a whole lot of student-athlete advantages and monetary advantages," Mitchell said.

Maryland fans sometimes complain that the 12-member ACC is too North Carolina-focused. The conference is based in North Carolina, and the men's basketball tournament has been held in North Carolina 16 times since the 1990 season.

"It's not the job of the Terrapin Club to select a conference we get to play in," said Rick Jaklitsch, president of the club, which provides scholarships for athletes. "But personally, I've always been frustrated by the Carolina-centric conference. Maybe the rumors about Maryland going to the Big Ten will make the ACC appreciate that for the ACC to be successful, Maryland needs to be successful because of the TV."

Still, Jaklitsch said he was not advocating a conference switch. There are "many reasons" for Maryland to remain in the ACC, he said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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