What would college football’s stretch run be without rumors about conference expansion? As SB Nation’s Testudo Times details, there’s a strong sense out there that Maryland may be headed to the Big Ten for 2014. Yes, we’ve certainly heard this before. One can just trace back to July 2012 to find the last time one or two ACC schools were “definitely leaving” for greener pastures. And that was before the $50 million exit fee was approved by conference members (only dissenters were Maryland and Florida State).
So while I won’t automatically discount the move, consider this: Maryland’s athletic department has been losing money for six consecutive years now. To deal with this issue, they’re planning to cut at least seven of the school’s 27 varsity sports. Florida State has also been in a similar situation, yet continues to come up in realignment talks. Do we honestly believe either school can just hand over $50 million — possibly more if they chose to depart early? I find it hard to believe. Penn State‘s $60 million fine from the NCAA seemed pretty crippling, and they have four years to pay that off. So again, how is a school like Maryland supposed to be able to afford such a hefty price tag on their departure?
Price tag aside, though, what are some of the other factors that could weigh heavily for Maryland to either stay put or head to the Midwest? I’m glad you asked…
Geography: It’s long been thought that the Big Ten bylaws required any expansion team’s state to border another current member. Obviously, the league could change this if they felt it necessary, but in Maryland’s case, they pass this test — touching Pennsylvania’s southern border.
AAU Membership: Just one Big Ten member (Nebraska) is not part of the Association of American Universities (AAU), but Maryland passes this test too, having been part of the AAU since 1969.
Television Market: Maryland owns a pretty sizable portion of both the Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets, which at this point largely tune in to ACC games on Saturdays. The first rule of realignment is usually expanding into new markets, and this certainly accomplishes that. It would drive the Big Ten’s footprint further into the coveted east coast market, and really drive a wedge into the middle of the ACC.
Football Success: Football drives the train for television contracts, so obviously the Big Ten would want to add a strong football school. While the Terps bring with them two national titles, they were from 50 years ago (1951, 1953) and the team’s longest extended period of success was from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. Since then, inconsistency’s been a theme, but that’s nothing B1G TV money couldn’t fix. Plus, historical success and pedigree does matter in conference realignment, as evidenced by the ACC’s additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. None of those teams have won a national championship in the last 23 years, but all three are a brand in some way shape or form, with impressive win totals and titles also in tow.
Rivals: The Terrapins have no true rivalries with any of the Big Ten’s current members, though their semi-regular bouts with Penn State were formerly a source of comedy when PSU took 35 of the teams’ 37 meetings over an 80-year stretch. Unfortunately for college football, this aspect of the “fit” question doesn’t really have much effect, though.
Begrudgingly, this move does work out for Maryland in many ways. In fact, virtually all, except for the financial piece. On top of the $50 million exit fee, they’d also need to undertake a significant investment to upgrade facilities and catch up to their new conference peers. It’s not impossible, but there’s still a steep learning curve when upgrading to a “more competitive” conference (I only used the quotations since the Big Ten’s superiority is largely perception, not fact), as our own Hokie Mark detailed this past week.
So will the Terps make the move? I’m not sure. Fans seem to be split on whether it’s good for the program or not, and again, they don’t really have the ability to take on the ACC’s exit fee right now. But stranger things have happened. Should they depart, there’s also the issue of who’s coming with. Now, this is where things could get more frightening for the ACC. The chief name in all hypothetical discussions seems to be Rutgers, whose only real draw is a proximity to New York City. Should that be the case, however (and I’m laughing at the B!G if it is), the ACC’s in a simple situation where it just adds Connecticut and continues on with its existence, nearly uninterrupted. The other possibility — bringing another ACC team along with them — is the bigger problem. In the past, we’ve taken a look at which conference members would be most likely to leave, and Maryland is the only school within the geographic range of the Big Ten. There was that Georgia Tech rumor some time ago, but I’ll mostly write that off as nonsense. The North Carolina schools — save NC State — aren’t going anywhere, and the Wolfpack don’t have the academic standing or marketability to make a move up north. Virginia and Virginia Tech, along with Pitt and Syracuse, are also likely to remain where they’re at.
Again, everything here is hypothetical, and I’m still extremely skeptical Maryland will leave. I thought the playoff negotiations sort of stopped the realignment carousel, but I guess that’s never really the case. Nonetheless, hoping this all disappears, and the league stays intact as is.