and HAROLD GUTMANN
DURHAM — Reports with stunning news came out over the weekend.
The historic event became reality Monday when the University of Maryland announced it was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten Conference, becoming only the second school to leave in the conference’s 59-year history.
At a news conference in College Park, Md., Maryland president Wallace Loh said the school is making the move because of financial reasons.
Maryland had to cut seven sports last year and faces a $5 million annual budget shortfall in its athletics department, according to the Washington Post. That deficit is expected to grow to as large as $17 million within five years.
Former North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said Monday that Maryland’s dire financial straits left it open to such a move.
“At first I was surprised, but then when I started to think about what the financial issues are, it’s really not all that surprising, given the amount of revenue,” Baddour said. “I wondered what they would do, if this would enable them to do something with those seven sports, what they were doing is obviously to figure out a way to keep themselves whole.”
By leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, with its lucrative Big Ten Network cable channel, Maryland is expected to easily top the $17 million in annual shared revenue payments it would have received as an ACC member. The Big Ten is expected to pump around $25 million into Maryland’s coffers annually.
“Membership in the Big Ten is in the strategic interest of the University of Maryland,” Loh said “Number one, by being members of the Big Ten Conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come.”
Maryland has been an ACC school since the league was founded in Greensboro in 1953. Seeing a charter member bolt for another league caught many ACC and league school officials off guard.
In September, the ACC voted to raise the exit fee for any school wishing to depart the league from $20 million to $50 million. The only schools to vote against the move were Maryland and Florida State.
That, coupled with the addition of Notre Dame in all league-sponsored sports but football, appeared to signal stability for the ACC. But Monday’s events changed that outlook dramatically.
ACC commissioner John Swofford released a statement saying he was sorry to see Maryland exit. But he added that the league will stick to its core principals with its next move.
“For the past 60 years, the Atlantic Coast Conference has exhibited leadership in academics and athletics,” Swofford said. “This is our foundation, and we look forward to building on it as we move forward.”
But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he has real concerns about the league after Maryland’s surprising move.
“I think the ACC is vulnerable right now,” Krzyzewski said during a taping of “Basketball and Beyond,” his Sirius/XM satellite radio show. “I’m concerned about our conference.”
The league-wide concern is that another school, such as Florida State, might explore leaving. Loh said Monday that Maryland is hoping to negotiate a lower exit fee than the $50 million figure.
How that negotiation plays out will be key to what happens next with the league, Krzyzewski said during the taping of the show, which will air Wednesday night on the Sirius/XM satellite radio service.
“I do think more people are going to go after people in our conference now,” he said. “Especially if Maryland shows that, in some way, they can reduce or get out of that $50 million commitment.”
But Baddour said he’s not as fearful as others that the ACC is in danger of losing multiple schools.
“I feel really positive about the ACC and what it’s doing and its emphasis and goals, and Maryland leaving doesn’t cause me any concern on that front from other schools,” Baddour said.
ACC officials spent Monday plotting their next move. The league already had a ready list of schools that have expressed interest in joining the ACC in the past.
Connecticut, concerned that its Big East Conference reportedly will lose Rutgers to the Big Ten today, is on that list, according to league sources. Louisville, another Big East member, is a possibility as well.
The ACC has already added Big East schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which will become full ACC members next July.
Notre Dame, which currently competes in the Big East in all sports but football, is negotiating buyout terms so it can join the ACC.
Meanwhile, current ACC athletes can only wonder about what’s going on around them in light of Maryland’s move.
“I was really shocked by it,” UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said. “They’re a big part of the ACC, and it feels like everyone’s leaving or going somewhere nowadays. It’s going to be a shame to lose them.”
Maryland, which will join the Big Ten in July 2014, will conclude its penultimate ACC football season this Saturday against the Tar Heels.
But UNC senior offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said Monday’s news will not inspire him to send a parting message to the Terrapins.
“No, that is not my job,” Cooper said. “Not my job at all.”