The Death of Tradition for Maryland
It had to come to this. It had to. There was no way that the shifting landscape of college athletics would allow for a program to idly sit and watch the world pass it by. It is this great shift – collectively over the last decade something along the lines of tectonic plate activity – that tends to force action and provide options for a brighter tomorrow. The NCAA is a giant game of musical chairs: You don’t want to be without a seat in a strong conference when the music stops.
News came down last week that Maryland and Rutgers would be joining the Big Ten. Yes, two fairly average, nothing-to-write-home-about sports schools will join the most holier-than-thou sports conference in the country (I mean no disrespect, SEC. You tend to be more high and mighty just with football and everything else is an afterthought). No matter. The point is that the Big Ten is salivating over their respective defections – Rutgers from the Big East and Maryland from the ACC. They land colleges in two top 10 markets. They get to spread the gospel, or as it’s more commonly known, the Big Ten Network to fans and alumni in those densely populated areas. They are expanding their market. This is a business decision that Gordon Gecko would applaud. They strengthen their brand by recruiting these lonely, naïve, lost souls.
As for the schools, it appears they are going to be set up for quite a while financially. Yes, the TV revenue from the new network affiliation will create a little space between dire straits and stability. After all, Maryland had to cut seven programs last year because it was bleeding money like a gunshot wound. How can you turn that down? If you’re an athlete deciding which team to sign with, the one that offers you $35 million for five years will surely beat out the one offering you $20 million for five years. Go where the money is. We have learned this to be true. Also, Rutgers leaves a Big East that is on life support as a conference. Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the ACC next year and Notre Dame jumps in the following year. West Virginia had already left. Rutgers sees this as a chance to join a conference that offers security, not fluctuation. Well at least not in terms of secession. If you can’t compete with ‘em, join ’em.
I’m a Maryland grad. I’m a fan through and through. This move smacks of knee-jerk reaction and fear. Fear that they will never recover from their financial turmoil and fear that the ACC is going nowhere but down. The Board had to make a decision, and it had to be a fast one. The dollars speak too loudly. A program that needs an automobile level bailout has to listen. Never mind that Maryland was a charter member of the ACC in 1953. Forget that some of the most epic battles on the basketball court in recent years were between Duke and Maryland. Forget that the ACC tournament is one of the dramatic post-season events in college sports. And what happens to non-revenue sports like lacrosse? I’m sure the Midwest has a lot to offer in the way of competition that Maryland never got in the ACC. This move seems to sell tradition as something that can be in fact sold. To the highest bidder. Sure we will remember our time in the ACC, the decision-makers say. This move provides us with stability for years to come. Are they ACC people? Do they understand what they are giving up? I don’t think so. But what can you do? When the prettiest girl at the party wants to go out with you, you do it and you do it without thinking.
There are reasons why this move was made. Good reasons. The schools could use the money, and it’s about nothing else. Look, ultimately that money is going to help restore some sports and solidify the future. They have a good thing going with their own network. Additionally, recruiting bases get expanded a little. The Big Ten is a good basketball conference. Rivalries will reveal themselves as time goes on. And you have to look out for yourself. There are no guarantees where conferences are headed. San Diego State is in the Big East after all. Realignment mocks all of our sensibilities. I just thought my school was impervious to such things. I thought we were grounded, we were proud. We liked where we were situated, north of Tobacco Road. But I feel duped. I feel like they were waiting for the perfect time to pounce, and maul everything we’ve grown accustomed to. The NCAA is as close to a joke as it’s going to get. It’s all one big game of who is important, who is smart, and who has the most cash. Just make sure you sit in your chair when the music stops. If you can find it.