Maryland deal included multimillion-dollar travel subsidy from Big Ten

March 15, 2013|By Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

The University of Maryland's deal to join the Big Ten includes not only the lucrative annual payouts that all members receive, but also a significant concession obtained by the school — a subsidy worth tens of millions of dollars from the conference to offset athletic teams' anticipated higher travel costs, according to multiple sources.

The subsidy, which Maryland was promised in negotiations with the conference late last year, made an already appealing offer of Big Ten membership even more attractive to the school.

Since financial details of the agreement are kept private — the amount of the subsidy is not publicly available. But the amount is in the range of $20 million to $30 million, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Maryland got the subsidy after assessing the travel-cost implications of leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, its home for 60 years.

The cost of sending its teams halfway across the country — as far away as Lincoln, Neb. (1,201 miles), and Iowa City, Iowa (905 miles) — was projected by the school to approximately double its travel budget.

The subsidy underscores how much the Big Ten coveted Maryland and the accompanying Baltimore-Washington television market. Maryland had some leverage in the talks because — unlike some schools exploring jumping conferences — it was not coming from a league, the ACC, that appears in imminent danger of collapse.

It was not clear when the subsidy is to be received and whether it will be a lump sum or series of payments. School officials said the specifics were private, and the Big Ten declined comment.

"If the Big Ten subsidizes them in travel, then I'm pleased," said former U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents.

McMillen said conference realignment continues to pose another travel-related challenge — making sure athletes can succeed academically despite being away from campus for more extended periods. "It just makes it so difficult for kids to go to school," McMillen said. "I think it's an ever-growing trend. This is not just Maryland — this is all these conferences."

Maryland's team travel budget for 2012-13 is about $3 million, the athletic department said in response to a Baltimore Sun request. Based on information available before team schedules come out, the projected figure for 2014-15 — once the school is in the Big Ten — is $6 million.

The Big Ten was attractive because its television payouts will help sustain a Maryland athletic department that had to cut seven of its 27 teams last year. Maryland's Big Ten deal appears to dwarf what it got from the ACC. According to Sports Illustrated, the Big Ten projected that Maryland would make $32 million in 2014-15 — and much more after the Big Ten negotiates a new television deal in 2017.

Shortly after adding Maryland — which is to begin in the Big Ten in July 2014 — the conference accepted Rutgers, whose New Jersey location is valuable because of New York's large television market.

Rutgers has also studied the implications of Big Ten travel and is exploring creative solutions, but apparently not subsidies. Most college teams' travel budgets aren't subsidized by conferences.

"I don't think it's so much about subsidies," Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said Thursday. "We were comfortable from the beginning that the revenues are going to equitably address the travel situation. With certain sports like football, we charter-traveled to every game, so football will really look the same. Basketball, there will be some more [travel], but nonconference scheduling will balance that out."

No new Big Ten divisional structure has been announced, although it makes geographic sense for Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State to be aligned together. "A lot of that stuff is still very preliminary — how we're going to do divisions, how we're going to schedule," Pernetti said. "In Olympic sports, there is a focus on how to schedule in the most intelligent way."

Options for helping athletes academically could include emphasizing weekend games, playing nonconference games closer to home and avoiding clustering too many road trips together. While Maryland football and men's basketball players typically travel on charter flights, much of the other teams' travel has long been by bus.

And then there are the fans. Maryland boosters have grown accustomed to driving to many ACC venues and have enjoyed conference rivalries. The Terps do have some long ACC road trips as well, including Miami (1,069 miles) and Florida State (880 miles).

"I've already started looking into travel arrangements — Southwest flies to most of the [Big Ten] places," said Rick Furlough, president of the Fastbreakers, the support group for Maryland's men's basketball team. "Would I like to be in Miami in February instead of Minnesota? Absolutely. But it is what it is, and I think it is a good move."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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