One year after announcing move to Big Ten, anticipation and uncertainty reign at Maryland

Negativity over move has diminished, but thousands of athletes, students and fans anticipate changed world

  • Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, left, and Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany appeared together for a panel discussion at the university about the Terps' impending move to the Big Ten.
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, left, and Big Ten… (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
November 17, 2013|By Jeff Barker and Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — In recent weeks, University of Maryland staff members have hiked around their sprawling campus, taking inventory of every field, court and wall where "Atlantic Coast Conference" or "ACC" appear.

There is Byrd Stadium's football field, where "ACC" appears in red, block letters crossing the 25-yard lines. There is the white "ACC" inside the red lanes of Comcast Center's basketball court. There are the logos of every ACC school, prominently displayed across a white wall in the office of men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon.

By the middle of next year, they will all be gone.

A year after Maryland announced that it would leave the ACC, the school is rapidly preparing to make its new home in the Big Ten Conference — a wealthy, Midwest-based league eager to expand its reach into the Baltimore-Washington television markets. Preparing for the July 1, 2014, move means tasks like replacing the ACC logos, scouting camera locations for the Big Ten Network at athletic venues and discussing travel schedules with the Big Ten to minimize student-athletes' missed class time.

The emotional and cultural transformation is more complicated.

Terps fans initially agonized over the loss of rivalry games in men's basketball against Duke and North Carolina. And in the months since, the planned move has cast off ripples that affect thousands of lives.

Student journalists at the school worry that their budget might be overburdened by the costs of covering road games in the far-flung Big Ten. Fans who travel for away football games are acclimating to the concept of November afternoons in Michigan rather than South Florida. Recruits are weighing whether the Big Ten is the best stage for them to showcase their skills.

The shock of the move has worn off, leaving behind a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty over the new world to come.

"Everywhere I go, there is more enthusiasm," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "There was a lot of history with the ACC. But let's go back to 2004, when the ACC changed and added new teams. The ACC that we once knew, we don't know anymore. The rivalries we've talked about, we don't play some of them for a year at a time."

Though critics of the move still surface on message boards and at public forums, much of the negativity has abated.

"My attitude is certainly not one of gloom and dread," said Gary Jackson, a retired Army major with a Ph.D. from Georgetown who travels with his wife to every road football game. "But there is an aspect of curiosity. What will it be like? How will we fit in? There are still a lot of unknowns."

Many of the university's coaches were as shocked by the move as anyone. But most look forward to it now, said longtime men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, who leads a council of Maryland coaches.

"One year later, there is a real positive energy and excitement for next year," Cirovski said.

He said he hasn't heard any negativity about the Big Ten from his players, their families or recruits since the first few days after the announcement. He added that his fellow coaches have shared similar experiences.

"It's not on their minds," Cirovski said of his current team, which is preparing for the NCAA tournament. "We've hardly even discussed or talked about it."

The school anticipated that leaving the ACC after 60 years would be jarring for students, alumni and other fans. Even before its negotiations with the Big Ten became public, Maryland had begun working on a public-relations campaign to soften the blow. The campaign focused partly on getting positive messages about the move onto social media sites, according to internal emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a public-records request.

A year later, the school — a founding member of the ACC — continues its efforts to ease anxieties and educate supporters about the move. The Big Ten even hired a multinational public-relations firm, Weber Shandwick, to help officials understand fan concerns at Maryland and Rutgers, which is also joining the conference next year.

For its part, the Big Ten is eager to get Maryland in the fold, said commissioner Jim Delany, who was in College Park earlier this month for a panel discussion about the move. Delany was frank in describing his excitement, not just at working with Maryland, but at giving his conference deeper access to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

"This is the greatest corridor, not only in the country, but in the world, when you think about quality high schools and institutions," he said.

Dollars and sense

Maryland has unfinished business with the ACC.

The school is defending itself against a lawsuit filed by the conference in North Carolina, with the ACC seeking an exit fee of $52,266,342. In court documents, Maryland has argued that, as an extension of the state, it has sovereign immunity, shielding it from lawsuits such as the ACC's.

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