Shelving rivalries that stretch back generations as well as silly limitations such as geography, Rutgers University appears poised to join the University of Maryland in leaving its former conference for a new home in the Big Ten athletic conference.
Rutgers has played in the Big East. Maryland was with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Both schools have moved swiftly and stealthily. News of this latest chapter in the conference realignment sweepstakes broke Saturday. By Monday, Maryland had formally announced that it would leave the ACC. The move by Rutgers is all but official as well.
According to Inside Higher Ed, President Wallace D. Loh of the University of Maryland said that the process of deliberating and voting on the move took less than three weeks.
The vote among Maryland’s board of regents was overwhelming but not unanimous; approximately 90 percent supported the decision.
One regent who opposed the decision was C. Thomas McMillen, a former Maryland basketball star and 6-foot, 11-inch-tall Democratic congressman.
“I thought that something as monumental as this should take more time,” McMillen explained to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “I thought the players, the coaches — even the ACC, which we have been involved with for 60 years — should be a part of the decision.”
“These conferences and commissioners basically hold these institutions of higher learning hostage, and run very secretive, truncated processes,” he added. “In the long run it’s a very, very bad development for college sports and universities.”
A slew of notable former Maryland athletes expressed frustration via their Twitter accounts as well, The Washington Post notes.
Kristi Toliver, who won a women’s basketball national championship as a Terrapin in 2006, wrote: “The big 10? That’s like exchanging your Bentley for a Buick.”
“No more UVA, Duke, NC talk. That’s weird,” tweeted Torrey Smith, a Baltimore Ravens wide receiver for the who played at Maryland from 2008 to 2010.
Maryland was a founding member of the ACC, in 1953.
President Loh cited as the fundamental reason for the move the cash infusion for the Maryland athletic department — and for the school — that he expects Big Ten membership to generate, Inside Higher Ed reports.
As recently as this summer, Maryland’s athletic department was reportedly forced to cut seven of its 27 intercollegiate sports to relieve a budget deficit of $5 million — this year alone.
“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, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Of course, there is the small matter of a $50 million exit fee required to depart the ACC, which is nearly as much as the athletic department’s $57.7 million annual budget. The school will likely negotiate the fee down. Alternatively, it could have an agreement in place with prevail the Big Ten to share part of the expense. A lawsuit against the ACC is always an option as well.
The move to the Big Ten by Rutgers is somewhat less shocking. The Big East athletic conference, the current home of the Scarlet Knights, has been perpetually on the brink of extinction since autumn 2011, when four schools left the conference during a tumultuous six-week period.
USA Today reports that Rutgers applied to become a member of the Big Ten just after Maryland officially made its move. The New Jersey school will be just as officially accepted as a Big Ten member at a press conference on Tuesday.
The mathematically-challenged Big Ten will thus go from 12 to 14 schools.
“I always felt that the academic institutions of the Big Ten, which are land-grant research and AAU universities, are a perfect fit with Rutgers,” former Rutgers athletics director Bob Mulcahy said, according to USA Today. “It’s going to bring prominence to the entire university.”
Rutgers must pay a $10 million exit fee to what’s left of the Big East and provide 27 months notice before leaving. The fee would be $20 million if Rutgers chooses to leave earlier.
Rutgers has been a member of the Big East for football since 1991 and for all sports since 1995. Prior to 1995, Rutgers belonged to the Atlantic 10 Conference. It had been independent in football.