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Cash-strapped Maryland chooses Big Ten TV money over ACC tradition

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Maryland and Rutgers are considering moves to the Big Ten (Getty Images)

At the start of every press conference in which a school announces it's leaving one league for another, the university president will pontificate about how academics or cultural fit played a key role in the decision.

That portion of Maryland's news conference announcing its move from the ACC to the Big Ten is going to be especially nauseating.

Maryland reportedly will announce Monday it is Big Ten-bound, a move that sure as heck has nothing to do with the fact that the mid-Atlantic region has a more northern feel than it did previously or that the Big Ten has higher-ranking academic institutions. For both Maryland and the Big Ten, this move is all about the money.

Maryland's athletic department is on unstable enough financial ground that it recently had to cut seven sports just to make it possible to get out of debt by 2019, an estimate that relies on its football and basketball attendance increasing. That seems feasible in hoops as Mark Turgeon has the Terps on a path back to annual contention in the ACC, but Randy Edsall's football program is hardly a blip on the D.C.-area radar after winning just six games in two years.

[More NCAA football: Notre Dame atop new-look BCS standings]

Moving to the Big Ten is a viable short-term solution to that problem since Big Ten schools reportedly receive more than $7 million more per year in TV revenue than those in the ACC will once Syracuse and Pittsburgh arrive. Of course, the ACC's newly established $50 million exit fee will cut into that somewhat, but don't expect Maryland to have to pay that entire figure.

Maryland's basketball potential is a coup for the Big Ten, but athletic success has nothing to do with commissioner Jim Delany's decision to apparently pursue the Terps and Rutgers as potential expansion targets. SI.com reported Sunday that obtaining a foothold in the D.C. and New York areas could potentially bring in between $100 and $200 million annually in TV revenue for the Big Ten depending on whether the Big Ten Network gets on basic cable in those markets.

So, from a financial perspective, Maryland's potential move to the Big Ten probably makes short-term sense. Not only does the path out of debt get easier, Maryland can make facility upgrades that it needs or hire more support staff to assist its athletes.

The potential drawbacks to Maryland's move lie in these two questions: 1. Is that windfall worth throwing away years of tradition in the ACC? 2. Will Maryland's football and basketball teams and Olympic sports be as successful in the Big Ten the next few decades as they would in the ACC?

There's no question it will be a jolt to Maryland's fan base to trade annual basketball games against Duke and North Carolina for Minnesota and Iowa because the Terps have long histories against their Tobacco Road foes. At the same time, Maryland has no true rival in the ACC — and splitting up storied rivalries like Missouri-Kansas or Texas A&M-Texas hasn't been enough of a deterrent in this conference realignment era to stop other schools from making a money grab.

[Also: Chaos in the BCS as top two fall]

As for whether Maryland will be as competitive in the Big Ten as the ACC, in all likelihood the answer is no.

Maryland football has only been sporadically competent in the ACC, so it's hard to believe it would fare better in the historically tougher Big Ten. And Maryland basketball is poised for success regardless because of the fertile D.C.-area recruiting territory, but kids in that region undoubtedly identify with competing against Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse more than they would Big Ten schools right now.

Ultimately, however, there's enough pros and cons on both sides that Maryland would have had supporters and detractors regardless of the decision it made.

Now that the Terps are Big Ten-bound, though, they owe their fans this much: Admit that money is the real motivation behind the move.

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