- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2012

BALTIMORE — Maryland is set to follow the money to the Big Ten and end a nearly 60-year affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The culmination of the courtship between the East Coast school and the Midwestern league will be formally announced Monday afternoon at a 3 p.m. press conference in College Park.

Patricia Florestano, a member of the university system’s Board of Regents, said the board approved the decision to change leagues Monday morning but that the vote was not unanimous. Florestano said she voted for the measure.

“The question is what’s the future and we have to look to the future,” Florestano said.

Asked if the future was brighter in the Big Ten, Florestano said, “We perceived it that way.”

Maryland will begin competition in the Big Ten in the 2014-15 school year, a university official said.

The obvious incentive for Maryland to make a move is financial. 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.

One thing an affiliation with the Big Ten would bring is 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.

A university official said that after the regents endorsed the move, Maryland sent a letter of application to the Big Ten. The conference’s council of presidents then unanimously voted for the addition of Maryland, the official said.

What is uncertain is how Maryland will handle the ACC’s $50 million exit fee, a figure enacted over the objections of both Maryland and Florida State in September. A university official said the school will deal with the ACC privately over the exit fee.

Clearly, there is some question over whether the figure can be negotiated.

“We’re still debating what that figure is and how we’re going to deal with that,” Florestano said.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, is now at 13 schools with Maryland. Multiple reports over the weekend suggested Rutgers would receive an invitation if Maryland agreed to join the Big Ten.

Money also figures to be a driving force for the Big Ten, long a juggernaut of mostly large public schools in the Midwest. With the addition of Maryland and possibly Rutgers, the conference would have a contiguous presence from New Jersey to Nebraska and effectively bisect the ACC’s much-touted geographic footprint along the East coast.

The addition of the Washington and Baltimore markets that Maryland occupies, as well as the potential of the New York and Philadelphia markets that Rutgers straddles, provides the Big Ten a significant presence in major eastern markets. In turn, it means millions of additional households that could pay fees if cable operators opt to carry the Big Ten Network.

Maryland was one of eight charter members of the ACC upon its founding in 1953. Only one school, South Carolina in 1971, has ever withdrawn from the league. It has grown to its current 12-school alignment, with Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining in 2013 and Notre Dame agreeing earlier this year to come on board in all sports but football at a still undetermined date.

“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland,” 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.”

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