Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What they're saying about Maryland and the Big Ten

I'm mostly out of my element when talking about topics like conference realignment or college athletic department finances, but let me add my two cents anyway about Maryland's departure from the ACC (in 2014). I'm disappointed, and I'll miss the tough games against Duke, UNC, etc. Those games (when competitive) were obviously a joy to watch.

Over the years, I've slowly lost interest in college football, and football is the driving factor in Maryland heading to the Big Ten. I have no doubt that Maryland football will continue to struggle whether they play in the ACC or Big Ten; however, Mark Turgeon and the basketball program should be just fine. And, really, that's what I care about the most. As long as Maryland basketball keeps improving and starts winning lots of games again, it won't matter to me what conference Maryland's in. (Which is important, because they may be in another conference in 20 years.)

As has been repeated elsewhere ad nauseum, the move makes sense for Maryland's athletic department; that influx of cash means they'll be able to do/pay for more things. (Smart things, hopefully.) But that doesn't mean it's a perfect move, either. Important decisions are made all the time, and things eventually change. That's fine, but that also doesn't mean fans and alumni won't miss the ACC or easily forget about it.

Occasional Krem's Sports correspondent Walt Williams (follow him on Twitter) also weighed in on the subject:

"I haven’t come here to tell you that the University of Maryland should have never answered the call of the Big Ten Network and the purported millions that will come with it. I haven’t even come to lament the loss of home basketball games against Duke and North Carolina. That time would have come when the ACC decided to place in motion the conference raiding that began the national game of musical chairs that may ironically lead to its own demise with the addition of Virginia Tech and Miami. I also can tell you that I most certainly haven’t made an appearance to champion the academic benefits of this move. Especially since the university itself can’t do that with a straight face or without coming back to the importance of finances. Yes, the two things I have come here to talk about are the primary motivations of Maryland’s move to the Big Ten: Money and Football.

Looking at the financials, or at least what we’ve heard about them, Maryland is projecting that they will see an increase of 100 million dollars in conference revenue from the Big Ten by 2020. That number, even if it is extremely inflated, is sorely needed to help put Maryland’s athletic department on slightly more stable ground. That money could also be used for student athlete support that is sorely lacking at Maryland and has been for years. Whether Maryland uses the extra money for those modest things or overpaying for overmatched football coaches remains to be seen but we can hope for the best. The only possible hiccup in the financial calculations could be the long term viability of the Big Ten network in its current capacity. That is to say, the long term viability of basic cable as we know it now is tied to the viability of the Big Ten and now Maryland. Is it too far-fetched to think that by 2020 the current model of getting a bundle of networks as a part of your cable package could be jettisoned for a more customer friendly pick and choose model? If not, what would happen to profitability of the network and the Big Ten’s members if profit depended on a large number of individuals actively choosing to have access to the Big Ten network instead of having it forced on them? I believe these are all interesting questions to think about for the future. Right now however, there is no need to say that Maryland or Rutgers would be mooching off of the Big Ten’s success. Both schools by virtue of their television markets are as valuable to the Big Ten as the Big Ten is to them. I may be wrong but I don’t believe Jim Delany and the Big Ten are going to go around and give handouts unless they feel like they are getting something valuable in return. In the case of Maryland that value is probably going to be solely on the demographic side of things as the Terps aren’t likely to do anything of note in football for the foreseeable future.

Looking at the conference switch from the perspective of the Maryland football program, there is nothing I can say except that this probably won’t go well at all. Now I’m not saying that the Big Ten is the best football conference in the country or even close to it. There is no doubt though, that the Big Ten is worlds better at this point than the ACC has been in the past decade or so. Add in the fact that Maryland is at the moment a cellar dweller in the ACC and you get a recipe for long Saturday afternoons starting in 2014. Does anyone look forward to the sight of Randy Edsall attempting to match wits or talent with Urban Meyer, Bill O’Brien, Bret Bielema, or Brady Hoke? I know I certainly do not. Looking at the Big Ten right now the only team Maryland is probably unquestionably above is Illinois. Unless the Big Ten has some sort of starter introductory schedule for bad football teams where Maryland can play Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota twice it's hard to see how Randy Edsall will get a chance to finish out his contract, especially with the new conference money coming in. Of course, that’s if he even makes it to 2014 to begin with.

So basically this move to the Big Ten comes down to money, security, and football. While the first two should hopefully be taken care of in the short term, the football may take a while to come around. So I’m going to spend time the next 18 months or so warming up to stale beer and bratwurst and trying to learn the difference between leaders and legends. It can’t be too bad, right?"


Here's what some other writers/commentators/former coaches are saying about the move:

- "My gut level reaction is that it will work out badly. Maryland has tried a million ways to be a better football school. It’s not going to happen by moving to the Big Ten (or 14). If you eventually lose Turgeon as coach __he’s exceptional__ then you may go backwards in basketball, too. And will the sports that got erased because of budget be brought back? If restoring those sports isn’t part of the plan, then that weakens the case. This will be an endless debate. We’ll know if it was smart in ... five years ... 10 years? Right now, I’m in the 'lets learn more' stage. But whenever a fait accompli is presented and everything __from first news to 'it’s decided'__ all happens in less than 100 hours, I’m suspicious." -- Thomas Boswell

- "I just see it as part of the collegiate culture. The Big Ten wants that market for TV and Maryland wants more money or else they wouldn’t be making that move. I think it’s money-driven, but I kind of hate to see it because there were some really great rivalries there. I still recall some of the great games we had, and basketball in the ACC was even bigger with Carolina and Duke." -- Bobby Ross

- "I know a lot of people talk about traditions, they talk about, 'What? No more Maryland-Duke? No more Maryland-North Carolina?' Well, ever since a couple of years ago when they limited Maryland to playing both of those schools not twice but once, that took care of that. I really love it when you go to Duke and get knocked off and run out of the place and come back here and beat ‘em at Comcast Center. And Carolina the same way. But I’m looking forward to it. I think academically it’s good, athletically it’s terrific. The money, you certainly can’t turn your back and say, 'No, we want to continue the way we’re going.' And now it gives an opportunity for those sports that were cut, some of them, hopefully all of them, will be able to be brought back." -- Johnny Holliday

- "Tradition has ceased to exist in college athletics, so it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation. There will be a lot more money waiting for Maryland’s budget-strapped athletic department in the Big Ten. The conference is run by Jim Delaney, one of the less savory individuals in college athletics, but also — as he proved by being so far out in front in maximizing TV dollars with the Big Ten Network — one of the smartest. Football would be helped in terms of recruiting and ticket sales and fan interest. Basketball would stay about the same — games against Ohio State and Michigan State wouldn’t stir up the Maryland crowd like the Duke games do, but some would say that’s a good thing. The games would still be sellouts." -- John Feinstein

- "When you look around and see what’s going on — Notre Dame’s personal contract with NBC for football and being able to come into the ACC without football — just watching teams like Nebraska, who you never would think would be a member of the Big Ten — we all have to look at what’s best for the university. If you want to be successful in basketball and football, that takes certain finances to do that. Why would Syracuse and Pitt go to the ACC? Why would Nebraska go to Big Ten? The answer is pretty obvious. We shouldn't feel bad about doing what other schools have done to increase the exposure, to increase the validity of their programs." -- Gary Williams

- "This is again what’s wrong with what’s taking place in intercollegiate athletics. The priorities are completely screwed up. Someone should be looking out for the betterment of the totality of the game of football, the financial bell cow of their beloved intercollegiate athletics, home to all of their student athletes. Instead, they’re in the business of trying to clear markets for regional cable networks and get their financial landscape and footprint out to a different market. It’s just obscene what’s taking place here. One minute they’re shaking hands and talking about what’s great about the sport itself, and then as soon as they get through shaking hands, they go and raid one another’s leagues. It’s situational ethics at its height, at its absolute height." -- Tim Brando

- "They play the games that the ACC plays -- they play soccer, they play lacrosse -- it makes sense for them to find a league that played the same games. Does anybody in the Big Ten play lacrosse? Of course it saddens me. I'm actually shocked by this. I'm absolutely blown away." -- Gene Corrigan, former ACC commissioner

- "The Big Ten Network is a money-making machine, and the conference actually made more money last year than even the SEC. Last fall, when I spent a day with the Indiana football program, they informed me that they'd been able to upgrade their facilities almost entirely with money procured from their Big Ten Network share. But that's what makes this so frustrating for those of us who actually give a damn about the product: Speaking to Rittenberg, [Big Ten Commissioner] Delany appeared to characterize the conference's football woes as a short-term concern, as something that could be attributed to an influx of new coaches and the consequences of immoral behavior at Penn State and Ohio State. He made no real acknowledgement of the long-term statistics, of the Big Ten's 34-52 bowl record since 2000, of the fact that the Big Ten has won 37 percent of its nonconference games against nationally ranked teams since Ohio State won the national championship in 2002. The top of the conference is largely shaky, and the bottom has never been worse: I imagine Purdue and Minnesota and Illinois would struggle to finish .500 in the MAC. But honestly, I don't even know if competitiveness is a real priority anymore, as long as the money keeps flowing." -- Michael Weinreb

- "As a former student-athlete at the University of Maryland and a supporter of the Athletic Department, I would like to congratulate Wallace Loh, Brit Kirwan and Kevin Anderson on reaching this agreement with Jim Delany and the Big Ten Member institutions. The ACC has been a great partner to Maryland throughout the years, however joining the Big Ten now provides new and exciting opportunities for our beloved University. The positive financial impact of this move has been well-documented; however, enhancing the experiences for all of our student-athletes and our campus as a whole is the most important consideration. I look forward to this new chapter for Maryland and I am excited for our future. Go Terps!" -- Kevin Plank

- "But I realize that what I feel nostalgic about is something that was lost a long time ago.... Syracuse and Pitt are coming to the league and that means that going forward, Maryland was guaranteed in basketball two home-and-homes: with Pitt and Virginia. Now I don’t mean any disrespect to Pittsburgh, but they don’t mean any more to Maryland than Maryland means to them. And that was supposed to be our rival, going forward? And speaking of rivals — or, not our rival — so many Maryland folks now are lamenting the loss of what we would call The Duke Game. And let’s remember, folks: that’s a school that doesn’t see Maryland the way Maryland sees them. But besides that larger point, in the immediate future, there’d be far more years in basketball where you would not have a home game against Duke than years that you would." -- Scott Van Pelt

- "But the first question the conference hasn’t quite answered here is, why should these schools care about making more money? Money is obviously vital to college athletics as a threshold question. If you’re running an athletic department, you need to bring in enough revenue to fund your operations. But beyond that threshold, you don’t need more money. Universities are nonprofit institutions. There are no stockholders. At some point, more revenue simply means that athletic directors need to find more things to spend their windfall on.... The superconference experiments failed because you can’t manufacture tradition, and tradition is the only thing college football has to offer. Without tradition, college football is just an NFL minor league. Big Ten football mainly consists on a week-to-week basis of games like Michigan versus Minnesota and Illinois versus Wisconsin. Those games have meaning to the fans in ways outsiders can’t grasp. The series have gone on for a century. They often have funny old trophies. Every game is lodged into a long historical narrative of cherished (or cursed) memory. Replacing those games with some other equally good (or, as the case may be, not good) program is like snuffing out your family dog and replacing it with some slightly better-trained breed. It is not the same thing. And that deep well of sentiment, not the conferences’ ability to exploit a series of local cable cartels, is its ultimate source of value." -- Jonathan Chait

- "But the reality is that it is a GREAT move for Maryland (and, arguably, even more for Rutgers), and -- yes -- it is entirely about the money.Maryland athletics is in terrible shape financially. Joining the Big Ten and its ATM of a cable network will help immeasurably. From the Big Ten's standpoint, expanding the footprint is mandatory in a 'super-conference' world, and it is most ideal to do it in big markets like DC and NYC. I have no patience for people griping 'What about the tradition!?' Those people don't have to finance college athletics. You can lament the end of the Maryland-Duke rivalry while agreeing the move makes sense." -- Dan Shanoff

Some quotes/paragraphs were combined to save space.