Yesterday, the university decided to abandon tradition and officially joined the Big Ten, effective July 1, 2014. The rumors were true, and at first whiff, the final decision smells of deception and betrayal.
Yes, it’s never easy to say goodbye, especially because students and alumni of this university likely have fond memories of life in the ACC. For the athletes who competed in the conference and the fans who grew up watching and falling in love with it, the prospect of seemingly cross-country road trips for football games in Des Moines, Iowa, or men’s soccer games in Lincoln, Neb., is as sacrilegious as it is unfathomable. Most fans at this university probably couldn’t even find Des Moines on a map, let alone view Iowa, Nebraska or any other Big Ten school as a worthy replacement for our rivalry with Duke. In the stages of grief, it’s easy to remain stuck in both denial and anger as our university faces a radical change to its identity.
But the jarring nature of this move speaks less to university officials’ callousness or selfishness than it does to the harsh and simple reality of college sports: You eat what you kill. Yes, university officials disregarded tradition, history, culture and pride all for the sake of television contracts and revenue sharing. Put more simply, the university went for the money.
However unholy and cowardly you view this move, university officials made the right decision. The athletic department’s debt ballooned to about $83 million before the department was forced to cut seven varsity sports last year; joining the Big Ten will help it remain solvent, if not making it profitable, in the future. As university President Wallace Loh told The Diamondback, “No future president will have to worry about cutting teams or that Maryland athletics will be at risk.”
If the Big Ten’s projections are correct, that will certainly be the case. This university was projected to make $20 million in revenue from its membership in the ACC in 2014-15. When it joins the Big Ten, that number will spike to $32 million, according to projections Sports Illustrated obtained. And when the Big Ten renegotiates its contract in 2017, annual revenue is expected to reach $43 million.
Yes, the ACC has a $50 million exit fee for departing schools, but university officials will likely negotiate a lower cost. Even if they fail to do so, this university will make nearly $100 million in added conference revenue by 2020 because of this switch, according to the projections.
And the ramifications of this move go beyond revenue sharing and sports. By joining the Big Ten, this university will enter the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a prestigious consortium of all Big Ten schools, as well as the University of Chicago. Joining the CIC will allow this university’s faculty members and students greater collaboration and access to the resources and programs offered by fellow members. Though moving to the Big Ten was primarily a financial decision, it will clearly help further this university’s rising reputation and status as a top-tier research institution.
The immediate reaction in any monumental decision like this is skepticism and frustration. For those who remain distraught over the move, university officials and the athletic department should do everything in their power to help maintain tradition. At the top of the list would be securing nonconference games against Duke, particularly for men’s basketball.
But in this situation, change was both appropriate and essential. Moving to the Big Ten offers the long sought-after answer to the athletic department’s financial woes and will ensure this university’s athletic programs have the stability they need going forward. Nobody knows for sure what the ACC or Big Ten will look like five years from now. What’s for certain is, no matter how discouraged fans may feel today, winning will cure everything. And in college sports, winning always starts with money.