Who really saw this one coming? Better yet, who in the ACC really cares?
There is a select group of Clemson fans who have been jawing since early June that they would be the ones to break up the Atlantic Coast Conference by packing up and heading to the Big XII...or the SEC...or wherever. So what does the ACC do? Just add Norte Dame in every sport sans “full” football membership and then bump the exit fee up to the Gross Domestic Product of Montserrat (about $50 million dollars). The general idea was the value would be so high that anyone leaving the conference would mortgage their future and send their athletic program into disarray. But what happens when you already have 2 liens on that mortgage and are already in disarray? You would have found the loophole, and you would be the Maryland Terrapins.
As the rumors and “I said it firsts” started hitting Twitter on Friday, it seems like there are some legit discussions between Maryland and the Big Ten, with the ultimate plan this go-round being Maryland and Big East defectors Rutgers would become full members as soon as 2013. The idea behind this for the Big Ten is not conference stability, as no one has really made a play for any of their institutions...yet, but media outlet coverage as this puts them on the map in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic, including Baltimore/DC. Shoot, I’m in southeast Virginia and I still have the Big Ten Network for some reason so I can’t understand that too many more outlets would be gained by the move, but I’m sure someone crunched those numbers. But the downside for the conference is that you are watering down your product. If you are in the same mindset that adding Pitt and Syracuse only benefits men’s basketball and not football, you are adding two programs that are down in basketball and, at best, wildly inconsistent in football. I know Rutgers is 21st in the AP and 9-1, but that’s in the Big East and they were 4-8 just two years ago.
So here is what Maryland is thinking...I can only believe. This is an athletic program that is a tire fire, so much so that they had to cut several teams just to lose less money a year. The estimates were around $7 million in 2011 and would balloon to $17 million by the later half of the decade. What they are counting on is that the increase in revenue with the Big Ten TV contract will at least stabilize the department so that when the teams “turn the corner” as far as other revenue, they will start making a profit. Right now the amount per team is around $24.6M, adjusted to $21.1 with 14 teams, which is around a $4 more than the ACC. Now, the BT will negotiate it out and will hope that the increase in markets will warrant a $50 million increase per year, which would bump the number up to $7 million...right at the amount Maryland is looking for. Then there is the pesky exit fee and the lost revenue. Now while I’m sure several law firms are already combing through the agreement looking for loopholes which might put it less than $50 million, there still will be a number in the 8 digits, even if the Big Ten chips in. The other side of it is that they would lose their checks from the ACC for at least two years, which would be around $22-27 million. And that’s game checks. Weekly income. So, basically, Maryland will have to turn into the Cleveland Indians from Major League to be solvent until their next check. Looking for a good proctologist? Check out the area behind Testudo.
So what does this mean for the ACC and Virginia? Nothing. Nothing but history and symmetry. Not to inflate their heads anymore, but losing FSU or Clemson would be a blow, as they are traditional football powers that bring in fans and revenue to the conference. The only thing Maryland brings to football is 34 sets of god awful uniforms that deface their state flag. Only 35K showed up for their matchup against #10 Florida State on Senior Day. Virginia gets flack from local media for low attendance and we had close to 46K on a cold-as-nether-regions Thursday night. Sure, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State would boost attendance the first times through, but you need matchups that fans care about and will attend game after game. And lets not even start with conference travel. Wisconsin and Minnesota in the dead of year costs a lot, a lot more than sunny Miami. But, I digress.
For the ACC, it will be down to 13 full members and Norte Dame. Already the buzz around the league is how will the conference fill the spot, with the ACC’s next-in-line partner Rutgers heading to the Big Ten as well. The most direct way is to convince ND that full membership is worth while. But after this year, that point might be extremely mute as they know that they can get to a National Championship without a conference affiliation. Next you would have to look at the rest of the Big East. Logically, you would look at UCONN, as they are a slightly better football team and would make both basketball leagues juggernauts, but there is a little side note to the inclusion of Pitt and Syracuse that the Huskies would not come over to the ACC, but that could be worked out. Louisville probably has eyes on the Big Ten or Big XII as well as Cincy and South Florida would work geographically, but all these teams are long shots and last ditch efforts. Nobody would question Navy’s inclusion as it wouldn’t be a step up in football, but basketball would be an issue with their current arena. There are some options, but will need time to explore before committing. Outside of the pure numbers, the level of competition will not diminish much. Besides the money sports, they have a good soccer and lacrosse teams, but that’s about it.
Lastly, how does this impact UVa? It really is tradition. Pitt lost the Backyard Brawl when WVU moved to the Big XII. Texas and Texas A&M don’t meet anymore. The only part of the rivalry I will miss is the UVa/Md basketball game at the end of the year. But people have been calling for VT to replace that game for years now. It was easy for the DMV Wahoos to get to the away games in College Park, but it is not tragic, as C’Ville is only a few hours away. All in all, a loss, but not tragic, like a band losing the guy who plays the triangle.
So what do we take out of all of this? I would usually rag on Maryland fans at this point, but the general feeling from the fans and alumni is that they aren’t super happy about this move either but see it as something that needs to be done. Numbers always sound good, but it is a pretty big hole for UMd to climb out of. The ACC and Virginia will both be perfectly fine and in the end healthier. So adios to Maryland. Moving on.