Maryland’s move to the Big Ten went from rumor to fact at a dizzying rate over the weekend. Likewise, personal opinion about the switch lurched sharply during those 48 hours. By the time the news was official Monday, my feelings had traversed every extreme of the emotional spectrum.
Athletic director Kevin Anderson said the process for fans who mourn Maryland’s departure from the Atlantic Coast Conference is akin to the stages of grief. There’s denial, anger, depression and acceptance. They essentially morphed into one glob of sentiment, because this case moved too fast for separation.
However, the final stage doesn’t necessarily involve a sad ending. Leaving the ACC doesn’t automatically amount to a terminal prognosis for Terrapins athletics.
Some longtime fans might equate the move to the loss of a loved one. That’s totally understandable; remembrances from a 60-year-old relationship don’t fade easily, if ever.
But falling in love with the past is a certified threat to your preparedness for the future. Though no one is certain how events will play out for Maryland in the Midwest, the Terps’ present circumstances cleary aren’t as good as they used to be. And nothing about the ACC suggests a significant uptick is ahead — at least nothing that can match the Big Ten’s enticing prospectus.
Yes, Maryland has a rich history in the ACC. But nostalgia and tradition — like aura and mystique — don’t pay any bills.
I’m always amused by folks who suggest that top-rated student-athletes should stay in school instead of entering the draft, or such-and-such pro athlete should stick with his old team instead of signing for more elsewhere. Turning up your nose at millions of dollars is like reaching for the check after a large group’s meal — both are easy when they involve someone else’s money.
If president Wallace Loh and his fellow Maryland officials didn’t consider what the Big Ten has to offer, especially given their athletic department’s well-documented financial crisis, they would’ve breached their fiduciary duty. Critics bemoan the move, saying “Maryland only did it for the money!”
Forgive me, but I don’t get the point of that objection. It’s called cashing in, not selling out. More money, potentially loads of it, might not be the only reason to give up charter membership in the ACC.
But it’s the best reason.
Joining the Big Ten’s academic consortium — the Committee on Institutional Cooperation — sounds like a nice deal for students and professors. But that’s more side dish than entree. The meat of the matter is a chance to stop the bleeding in Maryland sports, with the possibility of resuscitating some dearly departed teams.
This isn’t to suggest the move is risk-free. The odds of remaining irrelevant in football just got shorter. From the 2000 season through Saturday, Indiana has won 19 conference games; a similar rate of failure could await the Terps. They have won three or fewer games in the ACC six times in the past nine seasons.
We’re used to Maryland being a bit player in football, so it’s no big deal if the status quo continues. The biggest concern is how the move might affect basketball, the Terps’ predominant revenue sport.
If coach Mark Turgeon successfully recruits all the East Coast talent that would’ve played for Maryland in the ACC, no problem.
If those players have a strong affinity for the region and are geographically opposed to so many road games so far away, big problem.
Only time will tell how Maryland fares athletically and aesthetically in the Big Ten. But aren’t those supposed to be shallow concerns compared to how well the school does financially and academically? If all the sports are paid for, isn’t it OK if teams perhaps are a little less competitive?
I deplore the arms race in college sports as much as anyone. The escalating coaches’ salaries, skyrocketing stadium expansions and never-ending facility upgrades are a bit sickening. But that’s the game. Since Maryland has decided to play (whether it should is a different discussion) the school should do its best within the rules.
Not the rules from 25 years ago, before the Big East decided to become a football power and lured Virginia Tech, Rutgers and West Virginia from the Atlantic 10. Nowadays, blackjack dealers do less shuffling than conference commissioners. Schools need to look for the best hand, not the most familiar faces.
Like many other observers, my initial reaction to the move was displeasure, disgust and disbelief. But once the shock wave of emotion receded, I saw good reasons.
Millions of them.
And in this instance, there’s nothing shameful or regrettable about “doing it for the money.”