Sports

Maryland to Big Ten: Money Trumps Tradition

by David Elfin
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credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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Maryland, a charter member of the ACC when it was formed in June 1953, is leaving the conference for an even more venerable group of schools, the Big Ten.

Chancellor Brit Kirwan and the Board Of Regents can talk until they’re as red in the face as Maryland’s main color about how it’s great for academics because of the reputations of Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin compared to Clemson, Florida State, N.C. State and Miami, but this move is all about money, specifically the extra $8 million or so in television revenue per year that the Terps will receive as a Big Ten school rather than as an ACC member.

“I respect my fellow regents, but this is all about football and money,” said regent Tom McMillen, a basketball All-American and Rhodes Scholar who graduated from Maryland in 1974 and voted against the move. “There are lots of reasons to do this and lots of reasons not to, but we only heard one side. We didn’t need to rush this decision. The Big Ten wanted us two years ago and they would have wanted us two years from now. It’s a short-term palliative which could have long-term negative consequences.”

With Maryland and fellow newcomer Rutgers (which shakily claims New York as it own) the Big Ten will be represented in six of the top 18 TV markets (New York, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Minneapolis and Cleveland). The ACC will be in just three (Boston, Atlanta and Miami).

Kirwan, College Park campus President Wallace Loh and athletic director Kevin Anderson figure that that if Maryland is going to struggle in football, it might as well do so in a league whose schools have fans who travel in much greater numbers, have huge home stadiums and produce more teams in better bowls on a near-annual basis.

In the ACC, football is clearly king only at Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech. In the Big Ten, the gridiron rules everywhere except at Illinois and Indiana.

From a basketball standpoint, the Terps will lose their heated rivalries with Duke and North Carolina, but the Big Ten actually has more programs who have been top-notch in recent years led by Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

“The poor athletes, they have no say in a decision that affects them so much,” McMillen lamented. “They’ll have to fly to places like Lincoln, Nebraska and their parents will never get to see them play road games. If this had happened when I was at Maryland, my father would have made me leave school. These kind of decisions are going to make college athletes start wondering where their pieces of the pie are.”

The switch to the Big Ten will be hard on non-drawing card sports such as men’s lacrosse, which is going from a super conference with Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and incoming ACC members Notre Dame and Syracuse to a league with only three schools that play the game.

But let’s be real, the powers that be don’t care about the so-called minor sports. If they did, Maryland would still have men’s cross country and tennis and men’s and women’s swimming. If Terps football hadn’t been finding it so hard to win and attract fans to Byrd Stadium — which former AD Debbie Yow never should have expanded — this probably wouldn’t be happening. Men’s and women’s basketball have been doing just fine despite the former’s recent down years.

So Maryland becomes just the latest school to sell out its traditions for bigger bucks. It’s horribly sad that college sports are now the land of the renegades and the pros are where tradition lives. Tiny Green Bay has an NFL franchise, but the ACC isn’t lucrative enough for the Terps. Teams like the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bears wear classic uniforms, but the Terps often dress like clowns as the Chicago White Sox (remember the shorts?), San Diego Padres (brown and gold), New Jersey Devils (skating Christmas trees) and  Utah Jazz (green, purple and gold) did in the 1970s and 1980s when pro franchises abandoned cities like celebrities do spouses.

Who knows which schools belong to which conferences these days? San Diego State, Boise State, Houston and SMU, none of which are East of the Mississipi River, are joining the Big East. Missouri, which is Southeast of less than half the country, is in the SEC, along with Texas A&M. Colorado isn’t close to the Pacific, but it’s in the Pac-10. Pittsburgh, which isn’t near the Atlantic, is coming to the ACC.

The NFL re-aligned geographically – with an exception for the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry – a decade ago. The other pro leagues make sense, too, but college sports is all over the map. Literally.

Give me the not-so-long-ago days when the Pac-10, SEC, ACC, Southwest Conference, Big Eight, Big Ten and Big East were all comprised of schools from neighboring states and whose fans had natural rivals in their counterparts. Is anyone in College Park, almost all of whose students and alumni hail from the mid-Atlantic, all fired up about the matchups with Iowa?

Other than the Ivy League, which has never offered athletic scholarships or participated in post-season football, the college sports landscape has become virtually unrecognizable. What lessons and values are students supposed to take from these here-one-day, gone-the-next moves? Apparently it’s that the bottom line is all that matters and that the athletes themselves and tradition be damned. Sad. So sad.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

Listen to former Maryland basketball standout and Congressman Tom McMillen on Maryland’s move to the Big Ten…

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