NEW YORK (AP) — Maryland is joining the Big Ten, leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference in a shocker of a move in the world of conference realignment that was driven by the school’s budget woes.
The announcement came Monday at a news conference with school President Wallace D. Loh, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and athletic director Kevin Anderson.
“The membership of the Big Ten enables us to guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time,” Loh said.
Loh added that Maryland athletics has been living “paycheck to paycheck.” The school had eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year.
“The director and I are absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate,” Loh said.
Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member starting in 2014.
“Really in the last year it’s become so obvious that major conferences are expanding outside of their regions,” Delany told the AP in an interview before Maryland’s news conference on campus in College Park. “You have multiple major conferences all in multiple regions.
“It seemed to us that there was a paradigm shift occurring around us. And therefore the question is how do you respond to that in a way that stay true to yourself, but is also only responsive not to the world you want but the world that you live in.”
Rutgers is expected follow suit by Tuesday, splitting from the Big East and making it an even 14 schools in the Big Ten, though Delany would not confirm that.
The Terrapins were a charter member of the ACC, which was founded in 1953.
“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit. For the past 60 years the Atlantic Coast Conference has exhibited leadership in academics and athletics. This is our foundation and we look forward to building on it as we move forward.”
There was speculation last week the Big Ten and Maryland were talking. On Saturday, it became clear the discussions were serious.
“Space is not the divide that it was once upon a time,” Delany said.
Maryland also gives the Big Ten a presence in the major media market of Washington. D.C.
Rutgers, in New Brunswick, N.J., and about 40 miles south of New York City, puts the Big Ten in the country’s largest media market, and most heavily populated area.
Delany said demographics were a huge part of this decision. The population is not growing as quickly in the Big Ten’s current Midwestern footprint as it is in other areas of the country, and it has hampered the Big Ten’s ability to recruit, especially in football, its signature sport. The Big Ten felt it needed to change that.
“We think demographics have fueled our growth the last 100 years,” Delany said.
“We’re not growing at the same rate as others, the questions is if you project out to 2030, what do we need to do? I think we need to stay true to ourselves as far as our philosophy, the balance, the kind of institutions we interface with.
“But also if we want to continue to succeed. Success is often, in many cases, empowered by demographic advantage. And that was being eroded both by consolidation by other conferences around the country, some into our natural, historic area. Also by a different growth rate, some people are growing by 3 or 4 percent some by 1½ percent.
“What we’re doing is not creating a new paradigm, we’re responding to a new paradigm but for very kind of historic reasons. We understand that success requires a dynamic involvement with rich demographics.”
For both schools, the move should come with long-term financial gain. The Big Ten reportedly paid its members $24.6 million in shared television and media rights revenues this year.
There will be some financial matters to resolve in the short term though. After the ACC added Notre Dame as a member in all sports but football and hockey in September, the league voted to raise the exit fee to $50 million. Maryland was one of two schools that voted against the increased exit fee.
The Big East’s exit fee is $10 million, but the league also requires a 27-month notification period for departing members. That means Rutgers will not be able to join the Big ten until 2015 without working out some kind of deal with the Big East.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia have all negotiated early withdrawals from the Big East in the past year.
The ACC could now be in the market for another member and it would not be surprising if it looks to the Big East, yet again. Connecticut would seem a perfect fit after Pitt and Syracuse join next season.
The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010 to go to 12 members, and Delany had given every indication that the conference was happy to stay at that number. The conference had given no indication it was in the expansion market.
The question now is whether this sparks more realignment from conferences that weren’t even affected. The Big 12 has indicated it is comfortable with its current 10 members, including newcomers West Virginia and TCU, but there has always been some sentiment within the conference to at some point go back to 12 — at least.
The Southeastern Conference reached 14 members this season with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri.
The Big East, which has plans to become a 12-team, four-time zone conference next season, could be in real trouble again — especially if UConn is wooed by the ACC. The Big East was hoping that adding Boise State and San Diego State, and maybe persuading BYU to join, would make it a strong enough football conference to justify its far-flung nature and make up for its lack of traditional powers and rivalries.
But if it sustains more losses, while trying to negotiate a pivotal new television deal, will Boise State and San Diego State renege on their commitments to the Big East?
And will Maryland’s departure spur other ACC schools — such as Florida State — to eye a new home?
For now, though, Maryland is the latest school to forsake tradition to potentially gain more revenue. The Terps have mostly been a middling football program for several decades, though its men’s basketball teams have been consistently strong, winning a national title in 2002.
Maryland this year cut seven sports programs because of budget concerns and has been having a hard time filling its newly renovated football stadium.
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