- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2012

The Maryland athletic department’s financial woes have grown greater and graver in the past two decades.

In one fast-developing move, the school hopes it can solve its long-standing headaches.

Almost exactly a year after it announced its feeble finances would force the school to cut several sports, Maryland accepted an invitation to the Big Ten Conference on Monday. The Terrapins will begin play in their new league in the 2014-15 school year.

“This is a watershed moment for the University of Maryland ” school president Wallace D. Loh said. “As members of the Big Ten Conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come.”

The decision, on the same day the university system’s Board of Regents approved the move, ends a nearly 60-year affiliation between Maryland and the Atlantic Coast Conference. The school was one of the conference’s charter members in 1953.

For all the glowing talk of academic benefits from Loh and others, the most obvious reason for both parties to take this plunge was money.

A university commission on athletics last year found that athletic department deficits were expected to reach almost $8.7 million in 2013 and $17.2 million in 2017 without any action. The school ultimately cut seven sports, dropping Maryland’s overall athletic offerings to 20 teams.

A Big Ten affiliation brings a vastly more lucrative television payout. Jim Delany, the Big Ten’s commissioner, told reporters in June the conference distributed $284 million to its current members during the last school year. That comes out to an average of nearly $23.7 million, and the Big Ten’s television contracts are up in 2017.

The ACC, meanwhile, announced a renegotiated deal in May that provides an average of $17 million per school over the course of a deal that stretches through 2027.

“We have done so much with so little for so long,” Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. “Now imagine what our teams are going to be able to accomplish with the financial stability we’ll be able to present them.”

The ACC’s $50 million exit fee — enacted in September over the objections of Maryland and Florida State — is something Loh opposed as a “legal and philosophical issue” and appeared to be the major barrier for any move.

Loh offered no specifics on how Maryland would handle the issue, only saying taxpayers would not fund it and that it was “something we will discuss in private with the ACC.”

“The exit sum of $50 million is, of course, a very large sum,” Loh said. “But I said that we have an arrangement under our membership that will assure the future of the Maryland athletics for decades to come. As we crunched those numbers, we are able to deal with this issue.”

The Big Ten is at 13 schools with Maryland. Multiple reports over the weekend suggested Rutgers would receive an invitation if Maryland agreed to join the Big Ten. Delany declined to comment about the addition of any more schools.

“Maybe some people fear the turtle,” Delany said. “We embrace the turtle. Today is Maryland’s day.”

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