Maryland and Rutgers are in advanced discussions with the Big Ten about joining the conference, multiple sources have told Yahoo! Sports.
Nothing is official yet, but tentative plans for announcements from the two schools that they are leaving their current leagues could come early next week, sources said. Maryland is a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers has been a member of the Big East since 1991.
Their movement would increase Big Ten membership to 14, and would come not long after most college sports observers believed the conference realignment carousel had stopped spinning. Notre Dame’s announcement in September that it would join the ACC while remaining independent in football was thought to be the end of a two-year spasm of realignment that significantly altered the college landscape. Big Ten leadership last spring said it was comfortable with its current 12-school alignment.
But that might no longer be the case.
A move to the Big Ten would be costly for Maryland. After the Notre Dame addition, the ACC voted in September to increase its exit fee to $50 million in an attempt to solidify membership. Two schools voted against the fee increase: Maryland and Florida State. Maryland president Wallace Loh told the Washington Post at the time that his vote against the fee was on "purely legal and philosophical" grounds.
Rutgers would face a $10 million exit fee from the Big East, provided the school gives 27 months notice. If Rutgers were to leave before that time, the exit fee could be as much as $20 million. West Virginia paid that amount when fleeing to the Big 12 last year.
And neither school is flush with money at the present time. The Newark Star-Ledger reported in Dec. 2011 that Rutgers' athletic department lost $26.8 million in 2010-11, forcing the school to divert millions from student fees, tuition and state tax dollars to balance the budget. In July, Maryland dropped seven varsity teams in an attempt to cover what the Washington Post reported was a $4 million deficit.
What Maryland and Rutgers lack in cash and football clout – neither has won a BCS bowl game and only Maryland has appeared in one – they potentially make up for in massive TV markets. Rutgers brings with it the New York market, and Maryland has Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. However, neither is considered a prime TV draw in markets saturated with pro sports.
Maryland and Rutgers both had been rumored candidates for the Big Ten in 2010, when the league added Nebraska, but that did not come to fruition. Instead of expanding to 14, the Big Ten held at 12.
"I would not be surprised, because [Maryland and Rutgers] was always the next step," said one prominent college athletic director. "And [it would explain] why Maryland voted against the $50 million withdrawal fee.”
Conferences have largely abandoned geography as a defining element of membership, but this would be a fairly significant stretch of what had been a Midwestern footprint for the Big Ten. Rutgers is roughly 1,300 miles from Nebraska, the westernmost school in the league. Maryland is roughly 1,100 miles from Minnesota.
Rutgers and Maryland both are members of the American Association of Universities, a point of academic prestige that is important to Big Ten presidents and chancellors.
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