The long-standing rivalries, the tradition, the history behind the university’s membership in the ACC — all of these will be just a memory soon. It’s been a great 59 years, but the Terps are moving on to (literally) bigger things now.
To the shock, dismay and even disgust of many, this university is joining the Big Ten beginning July 1, 2014. It’s a change that’ll certainly alter the university’s sports history, but one necessary for its long-term financial health.
Rather than facing Duke, North Carolina and Virginia every year, we’ll be matched against the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Fans likely won’t flock to see the football team be completely outplayed by schools with powerhouse teams, and basketball won’t face the same tradition-rich level of competition.
We’ll be throwing away decades of history, some say. The university was one of the ACC’s founding members, and we shouldn’t sell out for a money grab. It makes no sense geographically and we’ll be left without a real rival.
Put all that aside. For now, we’re going to focus on one thing, the aspect that has driven every conference realignment thus far and will continue to reign as the final factor in all decisions: money.
Moving to the Big Ten is all about securing the athletic department’s — and the entire university’s — financial future.Its instability has made national headlines over the last year, and the university had to cut seven teams just to stay afloat — not even to turn a profit within a year or two.
Financially speaking only, this is a brilliant move. The Big Ten is a revenue-sharing conference, meaning each of its members receives an equal amount of the money generated. When it comes down to it, officials were driven by the allure of knowing that no matter what — whether the football team is selling out Byrd Stadium (but really, when has that happened recently?) or can barely fill a quarter of the seats — there will always be a steady stream of money coming in.
Ticket sales for many ACC schools are slumping, and the Big Ten isn’t only reliant on selling tickets — it has its own cable network, called the Big Ten Network, with millions of subscribers worldwide. The network is responsible for a large share of the conference’s lucrative revenue stream.
And that’s where the Big Ten is way ahead of the game — students across the country just aren’t rushing to games like they used to. The conference adjusted and has already built a digital brand to keep fans engaged.
This fiscal year, the Big Ten’s members — except Nebraska, which just joined last year — will each receive about $24 million simply for being a member of the conference. And when the university officially joins, it’ll be privy to that revenue whether its own ticket sales increase or not. That doesn’t compare to the money it makes from being in the ACC. Each ACC school receives $17.4 million each year from the 15-year, $3.6 billion contract with ESPN. The university will make nearly 30 percent more by being in the Big Ten, and will make nearly $100 million more by 2020, according to information obtained by Sports Illustrated.
Though the exit fee for the ACC is $50 million, several sources say it’s unlikely the university will pay that high an amount. Even if it does, the money the university will make from the Big Ten will help ease the burden, and the conference has reportedly offered to help with the fee.
Look at all that from the viewpoint of an athletic department that has been hemorrhaging money for the last several years and was faced with a crippling $4.7 million deficit last fiscal year if it didn’t drastically change something. Sure, things have been looking better this year, but it’s not like the department’s exactly thriving — university President Wallace Loh said it’s still “living paycheck to paycheck.” There’s still a long way to go, and a large part of the department’s success has hinged on ticket sales. Neither Byrd nor Comcast has seen anywhere close to the crowd it needs to truly help the department recover.
It’d be nice to see our stadiums filling up and the university paying for its own athletic department, but given the way the last several years have gone, that’s too risky of a move. The university is ranked last in support per student-athlete among the ACC’s schools, according to last year’s report on the athletic department’s budget. Now, we have the opportunity to bring back teams that were cut, better support each team that’s here and hopefully compete at a higher level.
And that’s not mentioning the academic benefits. The Big Ten has an academic consortium called the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is essentially a huge collaboration between all of the universities. Being a member of the consortium will mean unmatched research and academic opportunities.
You certainly can’t put a price on tradition and the university’s identity for the last 59 years. But, unfortunately, you can put a price on financial stability — to the tune of $24 million or more a year — and for an athletic department that’s been starved of funds, that’s too sweet of an offer to walk away from, no matter how unpopular it may be.