Keeping Score

Maryland and Rutgers Bolt For The Big 10: Are These College Conference Shakeups Worth It?

Sure, more TV money can help a school. But only if it's spent with care

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Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Maryland Terrapins forward Ashton Pankey beats Duke Blue Devils forward Miles Plumlee to the ball during the opening jump ball to start the first half of the game at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md., Jan. 25, 2012.

The Cameron Crazies are fond of chanting something when the University of Maryland comes to town. “Not our rivals! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!” You see, the Dookies — snobs that they tend to be — love that Maryland is obsessed with defeating the Blue Devils. Terrapins fans have expressed their contempt for Duke in tasteless t-shirts; Duke fans created a Facebook page reminding Maryland their school doesn’t pay the Terrapins much mind. But the fact is, Duke-Maryland is one of those college basketball matchups that all hoopheads, not just the ones in College Park and Durham, can get excited about. It’s given us great moments over the years, especially in the early 2000s; you may remember the 2001 game in which Duke overcame a 10-point deficit with under a minute to play to force overtime, and eventually win. Duke-Maryland is a rivalry.

And it’s been killed, by yet another college sports money grab.

The dominoes started falling again yesterday, with the latest college realignment news: Maryland and Rutgers are ditching the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East, respectively, for the Big 10 conference. Why? Money, plain and simple. The Big Ten Network – the first conference-owned television operation, started back in 2007, which really helped start all this shifting — can now expand its presence into two attractive east coast markets: D.C.-Maryland-Virginia with Maryland, and New York-New Jersey with Rutgers. New York is no college football town, and Rutgers has never caught on there. Still, cable and satellite distributors will have more incentive to pay up for the Big Ten network. Rutgers at Michigan in football, in front of over 100,000 fans in the Big House, is a better TV property than Rutgers at South Florida. That means more revenues for the conference and its member schools. Maryland, for example, can expect $15-20 million more from the Big Ten than it is currently receiving from the ACC.

(MORE: Bye Bye, Big East: The Fall Of A College Sports Power)

Let’s, for a moment, get nostalgic. Maryland is a charter member of the ACC, founded in 1953. At its core, the ACC is a basketball conference. And while the Tobacco Road teams and rivalries (Duke, North Carolina, and to a lesser extent N.C. State and Wake Forest) ooze college hoops tradition, Maryland has played a major part in expanding the game’s popularity. N.C. State’s 103-100 overtime win over Maryland in the ACC final, back in 1974, when conferences could send only one team to the NCAA tournament,  is still considered one of the best games of all time. Len Elmore, John Lucas, Tom McMillen, Albert King, Buck Williams, Len Bias, Walt Williams, Joe Smith, Exree Hipp – OK, Hipp wasn’t that great, but his name is pronounced “X-Ray,” so how can you not include him? — Steve Blake, Juan Dixon and the 2002 national championship team; if you love college basketball, these names mean something. Maryland, and the ACC.

Over at SI.com, Andy Staples makes an excellent case that we need to ditch this kind of sentiment. College football brings in the TV money. Its regular season games, which can determine a team’s title chances each and every week, are worth more than college basketball’s. And the Big Ten is a better football conference, with more tradition, than either the ACC or the Big East, which has been decimated (Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC next year, West Virginia is in the Big 12 now,  Rutgers is leaving, UConn and Louisville are attractive candidates to replace Maryland in the ACC). Maryland can use the extra money — it has dropped seven sports this year because of budget struggles. If the Big Ten windfall prevents Maryland from having to subsidize the athletic department, that leaves more revenue for academics, and less of a need for tax hikes. The taxpayers of Maryland might benefit from the move.

That would be great. But let’s be cautious: before declaring Maryland’s Big Ten deal a surefire public benefit, let’s see how the school spends the extra money. Will it just be plowed back into the athletic department, to revive the sports that have been cut, to keep escalating the salaries of coaches and administrators, to boost recruiting budgets, to keep pace in the facilities arms race overtaking college sports, to cover increased travel expenses? (Although Maryland isn’t centrally located in the ACC – it sits on the northern end of the conference’s map – it travels, on average, 469 miles to reach ACC schools, including Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, which will join the conference in every sport but football and hockey. (Notre Dame remains a football independent, but will play five ACC teams a year). In the Big Ten, that average jumps to 664 miles — a 42% increase. Not to mention how the extra travel can impact an athlete’s academic experience).

Sure, a school should make extra money when it can. But if it’s going to destroy beloved traditions, let’s just hope it spends these funds smartly.

And never wears these uniforms again.

(MORE: Jock Police – How College Athletic Departments Monitor Social Media)


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