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November 19, 2012

Maryland to join the Big Ten in 2014

In 2010, the Big Ten kicked off one of the largest bouts of conference realignment in recent memory, when it announced it would invite Nebraska to be its 12th member. The move caused other college football giants - such as the SEC, the ACC, the Big 12 and the Pac-10 - to alter its membership.

Monday, the Big Ten was at it again, with the announcement of its 13th member, Maryland. The speculation has been rampant that Rutgers could become the 14th member of the Big Ten - with some reports stating the Scarlet Knights could officially announce their intention to move Tuesday - but Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany refused to talk about anyone but Maryland.

"Earlier today, the Big Ten received the application from the University of Maryland to become a member," Delany said at a press conference held in College Park, Md. Tuesday afternoon. "Shortly thereafter, all 12 of our presidents assembled on a conference call and, quite honestly, they were giddy. They were really excited, there was a unanimous vote in support. Maybe some people fear the turtle; we embrace the turtle. Today is Maryland's day."

Maryland will leave the ACC and join the Big Ten effective July 1, 2014. The ACC has a $50 million buyout for teams who want to exit the conference. Maryland president Wallace Loh said he will conduct private discussions with officials at the ACC about that total.

Many Big Ten and Maryland fans alike were surprised by the decision to invite the Terrapins. As recently as August, at the Big Ten football media days, Delany said he was comfortable and happy with 12 teams in the conference. Monday, he said he had watched major college athletics continue to change over the course of the last couple years, and wanted to expand.

On Maryland's side, Loh wanted to quell fans' concerns.

"I am very aware that, for many of our Terp fans and alumni, the reaction is stunned. They're stunned, they're disappointed," he said. "There is a sense of sadness of leaving a conference of which we have been a founding member for 59 years. Not different from when we left the Southern Conference, which we also helped found, and after 32 years, and went to the ACC. But we will always cherish the memories, the rivalries and the traditions of the ACC, because they will be part, always, of the Terrapin story.

"And for those alumni and Terp fans, I want to say this: I made this decision as best as I could, in consultation with key stakeholders and doing due diligence, with only one objective in mind: to do what is best for the University of Maryland. My obligation as president is not to any conference, it is to the best interests of Maryland over the long haul. And in this case, it is for academic excellence as part of this consortium, it is for the financial stability of athletics so that no other president will have to face what Kevin and I had to face in terms of cutting teams. And it is also, of course, lifting Maryland athletics, so it can compete at the highest level possible. Today marks a new day in the University of Maryland, in its history. We are very excited and very confident as we create our future."

The move comes at a time when Maryland athletics were struggling to find the funds necessary to continue to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.

Last July, the athletic department announced that it would eliminate seven programs: men's swimming, women's swimming, men's tennis, women's water polo, acrobatics and tumbling, men's cross country and men's track and field.

Since Maryland president Wallace Loh took over two years ago, it had been clear that the Terrapins' athletic department needed some sort of drastic change. Cutting the programs was a way to help the floundering program; the move to the Big Ten, however, is made in a much more positive direction.

In short, the move could save Maryland athletics. According to Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel, who obtained Maryland's projected financial numbers over the next several years, the Terrapins will earn "$32 million in 2014 instead of $20 million. [Maryland] projects to get $43 million in 2017 opposed to $24 million."

"By being members of the Big Ten conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come," Loh said. "As some of you know, when I came year two years ago, [athletic director] Kevin Anderson and I were faced unexpectedly with budget deficits. As a result, we had to do the most painful thing we have ever had to do: look a student-athlete in the eye and tell them, 'No, we can no longer support your team, the sport that you love and you came to Maryland to play.' We vowed that this will never happen again, as long as we're here.

"We came up with a plan to pull ourselves up out of that financial hole. But we are still living paycheck to paycheck. What membership to the Big Ten allows us to do, is truly guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, ling time. The director and I are absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate. We are also committed to strengthen and further the support that we give to our student-athletes, that they have the best possible experience. When we came here, with the problems we had, the support was at the bottom of the ACC."

Loh said the discussions with the Big Ten began, in earnest, "two or three weeks ago." Since then, he has talked with financial experts, University representatives, student body members, coaches, regents, alumni and others. ""I haven't had much sleep over the last few weeks, because it was a very intense process," he admitted. "I came to the conclusion that this was the right thing to do after extensive consultation and analysis."

His decision was based on more than just athletics and budget. He believes Maryland can benefit greatly from an academics standpoint, joining the Big Ten schools in the Committee For Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a research partnership with all 12 schools and the University of Chicago.

"I believe that athletics, as important as they may be, must be integrated with the mission of the university," Loh said. "There has to be an alignment between athletics and academic values and priorities. We are committed to take some of our new resources and earmark them to support the educational enterprises of the university, to support the university's overall educational mission. And we want to earmark substantial funds in support of affordable college education for students in need - and I'm not talking about student-athletes. The issues of affordability are paramount in these tight times. We are doing nothing less than developing a new financial paradigm for college athletics. As you know, the university supports athletics, and now, we want a paradigm whereby athletics helps support the university.

"We wanted to join the Big Ten, because we also wanted to join their academic consortium, known as the CIC. … They have a network of collaboration, in networking, research, innovation, that we can take advantage of and will further propel our upward ascension to academic excellence."


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