The University of Maryland is the 13th team in the history of the Big Ten Conference.
Maryland’s Board of Regents voted “overwhelmingly” to approve the university’s application to the Big Ten, and current conference university presidents assembled for a Monday conference to unanimously approve the school’s admittance. Maryland’s move to the Big Ten will take effect July 1, 2014.
Maryland athletics, which bears the nickname “Terrapins,” a kind of turtle, will abandon the Atlantic Coast Conference after nearly six decades of membership. Maryland is expected to negotiate down the ACC’s $50 million exit fee to help facilitate the conference switch.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith welcomed Maryland and its fans to the conference during a Monday press conference at the Fawcett Center. Elsewhere on campus, OSU students are split when it comes to the Big Ten’s latest addition.
Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said talks about the school’s move to the Big Ten began to heat up about two weeks ago. The Big Ten move, Loh said, will help stabilize its athletics department’s finances.
“This is, today, a watershed moment for Maryland,” Loh said during a Monday press conference at the university’s student union in College Park, Md. “Membership in the Big Ten is in the strategic interest in the University of Maryland. As members … we will be able to ensure the financial stability of (Maryland athletics) for decades to come.”
As Loh spoke, he was joined on an elevated platform by coaches from 15 of the university’s 20 athletics teams, as well as athletic director Kevin Anderson, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and university Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, a former OSU president.
Smith extended a welcome to the entire University of Maryland community.
“We look forward to having you as a member of our family and embracing your rich tradition and everything that you mean to higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” Smith said. “It’s a great move for our conference. When you think about where the landscape is today (and) what is happening in intercollegiate athletics, there is going to be, and, I think, as we move toward the future and years out, there will continue to be some change. Maryland is a great addition to our conference, so we’re looking forward to getting down to the details of trying to deal with the scheduling issues.”
Rutgers could be added as the Big Ten’s 14th team Tuesday, according to multiple reports. Smith did not comment on that possibility, however, saying instead, “today is about Maryland.”
Delany also declined to comment on the possibility of a Rutgers addition during the press conference in College Park.
The president of Maryland since Nov. 1, 2010, Loh spoke of having to face student-athletes after a commission decided to cut teams from the university’s athletic department.
Maryland cut seven of its sports programs were cut earlier this year due to a multimillion-dollar deficit, according to a Washington Post report. Men’s tennis, men’s and women’s swimming, competitive cheer, women’s water polo, men’s cross country and men’s indoor track and field were the casualties of Maryland’s financial troubles.
Loh said he hopes no Maryland president will ever have to cut a Terrapins team again, a sentiment echoed by Anderson.
“For me, the most important thing today is that no future Maryland athletic director will ever have to look in young men and young women’s eyes and say that you can’t compete anymore,” Anderson said, “that you can’t wear the colors for this school.”
Anderson confirmed that the school would reinstate the commission to determine which of the seven previously-cut sports can be brought back.
The positive effect of Big Ten inclusion on the College Park community came to light quickly, but OSU students said they were skeptical of the Maryland addition. Travis Opritza, a first-year in civil engineering, said he has little faith that the Terps will be able to play with the Big Ten’s football elite.
“I don’t really think they’re on par with a lot of the Big Ten schools, particularly like Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin,” Opritza said. “There’s a lot of tradition with football in the Big Ten and I don’t know if Maryland will be able to keep pace with that more than anything else.”
Nicole Baitt, a third-year in human nutrition, said the continued addition of teams dilutes the Big Ten and sacrifices tradition.
“The Big Ten should only be 10 teams. The conference is about tradition. Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan – those are all teams we play every single year so when you start diluting it, there’s more teams to play in the season (and) we’re no longer going to be playing those teams every year and it ruins the tradition of the Big Ten and the competition and rivalries.”
The super-conference theory
Stated simply, Smith thinks the idea of intercollegiate athletics morphing from a fragmented system of many smaller conferences to a system of significantly fewer larger conferences is possible.
A mega- or super-conference featuring upwards of 16 athletic programs could be in play down the line, Smith said.
“I can’t project other conferences’ thinking, but as I think through the geography of what’s going up and trying to set yourself up for legitimate opportunities to win championships, and you look at the revenue opportunities, I think you’ll see more expansion down the road by other conference(s) and getting to larger conferences.”
A neighbor for Penn State
Penn State University received consideration in the Big Ten’s discussion about adding Maryland.
PSU was the Big Ten’s first-ever expansion project when it became the 11th member of the conference in 1993. As the new member of an already established conference and the eastern-most school on the Big Ten map, PSU teams lacked rivals.
Smith said that by adding Maryland to the fold, PSU will finally have a geographic rival.
“We have a member in Penn State University that, in some of our views, needed to have, geographically, some colleagues, and I think Maryland offers that,” Smith said. “They offer a neighbor.”
Standing pat wasn’t an option for the Big Ten, Smith said. The conference needed to continue expanding and Smith used the Big 12 as the case study to prove his point.
Smith said that expansion would continue, both for the Big Ten and elsewhere, and stabilization in the current market place would not have been achieved by holding at 12 members.
“I don’t think we could have sat still for that goal, reaching stability,” he said. “We added Nebraska (in 2011) – that was one team. That didn’t cause (other conferences) to add just one team. They added multiple teams.
“(Conference) consortiums are going to look at what’s in their own best interest relative to positioning themselves to be the best that they can be, regardless of the Big Ten or regardless of the Big 12, who is sitting at 10 (members).
And my thought (the Big 12) probably won’t last a whole lot of years at 10.”
Todd Avery contributed to this article.