The possibility, or should I say probability, of conference re-alignment among NCAA Division I schools is one if the most talked about sports topics not named Strasburg. We have discussed some of the issues very thoroughly, raising many questions and coming up with few definitive answers. What we have agreed upon is that, while many universities and conferences figure to be better off financially, a major shift involving several BCS conferences will leave some schools out in the cold, will wipe out some conferences all together and is likely to upset a large number of fan-bases. Could it lead to some positive things? Sure. Perhaps a football play-off will be more feasible. But are the NCAA member universities going to do more harm than good?
At this point there is only speculation that the Atlantic Coast Conference will be significantly altered when all is said and done. Rumors that the Florida schools will bolt for the SEC or that the ACC will add 4 schools from the Big East are just that, rumors. Given that many of us are Maryland fans, I started thinking about what it would be like if Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, received and accepted an offer to join the Big
TenEleven conference. Given the uncertainty surrounding the ACC, could the university turn down such and offer? What would be the benefits of leaving the ACC for the Big 10? How would the revenue programs be affected? How would the change be received by coaches and former athletes who stay involved in the program? Would the change make sense from a athletic and recruiting perspective? And most importantly how would leaving the ACC affect the fans of and atmosphere surrounding Maryland athletic events?
There are a lot of questions and few answers right now, but from a financial perspective the University of Maryland would be foolish to turn down an offer to join the Big 10. The Big 10 could become a 16 team mega conference with the possible additions of schools like Nebraska, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and maybe even Texas. Huge money to be spread around by bowl game appearances and let’s not forget the Big 10 has it’s own television network devoted completely to conference athletics. Simply put the university and it’s athletic department would bring in significantly more revenue.
If money is not enough of a reason, then maybe leaving a conference that has treated Maryland like an outsider, despite being a charter member, is. Sure Maryland has achieved a fair amount of success in the ACC, but lets face it the conference is still wrapped around Duke and Carolina basketball. They are the media darlings, they are put out there are the face of the ACC and in many ways they get to do what it takes to stay good, with few repercussions. Hard to say Maryland would not face similar struggles in the Big 10 with storied football programs at Ohio St. Michigan and Penn State, and in basketball with Michigan St. and Indiana, but the path to the top in basketball would be a lot clearer. And let’s face it, that could be more important to Maryland fans right now and more feasible based on the state of the basketball and football programs.
How would this move affect the atmosphere of Maryland athletics? Well, for football, at least, there would be increased excitement, more storied road venues, bigger name programs and their fans coming to College Park. Not sure the wins would follow right away, but how fun would it be to see the Buckeyes, Wolverines, Badgers, Nittany Lions, Fighting Irish and others coming to Byrd on a regular basis. Roadies to Columbus, Ann Arbor and South Bend would be amazing too. On the basketball side, the new rivalries would not be nearly as sexy and the road trips would require a sled and a pack of dogs. It would be a tough pill to swallow changing rivals from Duke, Carolina, Wake, Georgia Tech and Clemson to, potentially, Rutgers, Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn St.
I think that would be the hardest pill to swallow for the fans, myself included. I have only been a Maryland supporter since the late 80’s, but I feel like I have grown up on those conference games. Sure it is tough to be considered the little brother to Duke and Carolina, but it is all the more sweet when the Terps take it to those two. Those rivalries are so strong, the fans so passionate in their dislike of one another that it seems like a huge loss to have to almost start over in a new conference. I do not think it would be too much of a stretch to say that Maryland could lose some fans by doing this and it also puts them at a geographic extreme. Maryland fans did not like being the northern most member of the ACC. Big 10 expansion will likely involve most “east coast” schools and division divided by geography, but Maryland fans would face much longer road trips.
I am not sure there would be much of a recruiting boost for either of the revenue sports. Big 10 football has more big names than the ACC, but in recent years a lot of luster has come off the programs as the conference has shown to lack the elite athletes found in the SEC, Big 12 and the PAC 10. The lure of a mega Big 10 could provide recruiting momentum for some of the schools and there would, again, be more money to go around for recruiting budgets. Basketball recruiting could take a bigger hit. (Who would have thought that possible at Maryland, I kid, I kid.) There is a lure to playing basketball in a conference like the ACC. I am sure many kids have chosen to play at Maryland because of the history, competition and exposure provided by the ACC. Recruiting is best when it is strong locally, how many mid-Atlantic recruits dreamed of playing against Wisconsin in a rugged, low-flying 48-47 conference game? Maryland would again lose something, but perhaps what they lose could be off-set by being a more consistent power house in a new conference.
The last thing I will talk about is how the coaches currently at Maryland would welcome this type of change. Maryland has a unique situation in that their football and basketball coaches are both alums who played in the ACC. While it may seem short sighted to make this decision based on the feelings of two aging head coaches, keep in mind that Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen have some very loyal supporters at the university and they will base their decision on how each coach reacts to Maryland changing conferences. If you ask me, neither Williams, nor Friedgen would welcome this change. Now both are extremely loyal to the University of Maryland and want nothing else than to see the school succeed, but could a move to the Big 10 be the end of both coaches in College Park? Would it be enough for them to hang it up and walk away graciously, rather than deal with a public relations nightmare?
It is a complicated issue. Life will go on at Maryland and with the NCAA if a change like this happens, but it would undoubtedly have negative effects. Is this the right time for Maryland to walk away from the ACC if the Big 10 comes calling?