Maryland set to enter 'a new world' in the Big Ten Conference

Officials say school is ready to make the transition, which becomes official Tuesday

  • Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium now displays a logo of the Big Ten Conference as the University of Maryland moves from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten this season.
Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium now displays a logo of the Big… (Al Drago / Baltimore Sun )
June 28, 2014|By Jeff Barker and Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Goodbye, Blue Devils, Cavaliers and Tar Heels. Farewell to Duke's venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium, to the 85-year football rivalry with Virginia and to myriad trips to destinations characterized by sweet tea and Southern drawls.

On Tuesday, the University of Maryland officially leaves the North Carolina-based Atlantic Coast Conference for the more prosperous Big Ten Conference, a Midwest-oriented league known for its football heritage and expanding television network.

So many changes are in store for Maryland, and obstacles remain — notably, the ACC's lingering legal effort to force the school to pay a $52.2 million exit fee. But the school says the transition is on track, from the celebratory events planned to details as small as the dozens of ACC marks and logos that need replacing.

"There was a strong attachment to the ACC, which is understandable. It still is bittersweet," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said of leaving the ACC, of which Maryland was one of seven original members in 1953. "But now people realize what the Big Ten has to offer us."

Maryland will make nearly $100 million more during its first six years in the Big Ten than if it had remained in the ACC, according to internal emails obtained last year under a public-records request. Financial stability was a major impetus for the move.

The school will celebrate the transition with an apparel launch in Baltimore on Monday, a "block party" that night in Washington and an on-campus celebration Tuesday, in which a new Big Ten-themed ice cream flavor will be unveiled.

Meanwhile, coaches are wrapping their minds around how the move will affect their teams on the field, as well as scheduling and recruiting. There is no single adjustment strategy; --- each team's circumstances are different.

'Kind of eye-opening'

The conference shift has so many implications that Maryland has formed seven work groups to study different areas.

There is the cultural challenge of assimilating into a conference boasting fan bases who fill football stadiums with nearly twice the capacity of Maryland's.

There are new travel demands for athletes, new eligibility rules for athletes' enrollment, enlarged television revenue, and an academic consortium allowing 15 members — the Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago — to share opportunities for research and studying abroad.

Even tasks such as finding all of the campus' ACC logos, some in obscure locations, have proved challenging.

"It's been really kind of eye-opening, the number of ACC marks," said Maryland associate athletic director for administration Ryan Bowles, who has helped oversee the transition. "We were looking in the stadium the other day and found one or two that we missed."

Gone is the "ACC" that appeared in red block letters crossing the 25-yard lines of Byrd Stadium. It has been replaced by the Big Ten's "B1G" symbol. Also erased is the white "ACC" mark inside the red lanes of Comcast Center's basketball court and the logos of every ACC school once prominently displayed across a white wall in the office of men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon.

The Big Ten is interested in adding Maryland — and New Jersey-based Rutgers, which also joins the conference this week — because it gives the league a stronger foothold in the East Coast and an opportunity to expand its brand into the lucrative Washington and New York TV markets.

Maryland hopes to use the conference switch to build its fan base, its athletic fundraising and its imprint on the region. The school is only two years removed from cutting seven varsity teams because of severe, lingering budget issues.

Maryland is counting on a major attendance boost in football — it won't estimate how large — by replacing its traditional ACC foes with nationally prominent teams such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Maryland believes those schools' appearances will not only excite Terps fans but draw thousands of visiting teams' backers to College Park as well.

As of the middle this month, Maryland said it had sold 20,096 season tickets for football, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. It also has commitments for 55 of its 63 luxury suites. The school says it is holding four suites open for single-game sales and is "in conversation" with prospective customers for the remaining four. Slow suite sales hurt the school financially in the years after their September 2009 opening.

Anticipating more fans, the school hopes to upgrade its game-day experience and wants to expand the parking lot for recreational vehicles, Bowles said.

Maryland is considering displaying the flags of all the Big Ten schools at Byrd Stadium, Bowles added, which the school hadn't done with its ACC opponents. Maryland also is considering following the lead of most Big Ten schools by charging a fee to attend some so-called Olympic sports, such as volleyball and wrestling.

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