The University of Maryland’s move from the ACC to the Big Ten Conference has been debated, discussed and analyzed. I have a unique East Coast perspective that I would like to share with you.
You see, I have been through conference realignment already. This year, my Alma Mater, the University of Missouri moved from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC…and I had some real issues with it…as did hundreds of thousands of Mizzou grads, students and supporters. One thing I liked was that since I live in Asheville, NC, I could now attend Mizzou games – easily. This year we saw the Tigers play at South Carolina (a two hour drive from home) and at Tennessee (less than two hours). Next season, we can go to Georgia (three hours), Kentucky (5 hours) and Vanderbilt (four hours).
When Mizzou announced they were leaving the Big 12, after being a member in it my entire life, it hurt…and it’s going to hurt those friends of the turtle in 2014 who have only known ACC rivalries. Going to your school for a game, or travelling on the road, brings you back to a time in your life that really wasn’t too bad. All you did was go to class, study, go out, drink, maybe work a part-time job (waiting tables in a sorority…okay!). So it kind of brings you back to that mind-set when things were simpler than they are not.
For me, Mizzou’s move to the SEC meant the end to rivalries such as Mizzou-Kansas basketball or football games… Mizzou-Oklahoma (U. or State) football games…Mizzou-Nebraska (already left the conference earlier) football games. And my Maryland friends will go through this starting in 2014. No more Maryland-Duke basketball…no more Maryland-North Carolina basketball…no more Maryland-Virginia ANYTHING. And that’s where it will hurt.
Two weeks ago, I met with Todd McCubbin, the Mizzou Alumni Director, at the UT tailgate. He told me that while Mizzou used to get 600 – 800 fans travelling to Iowa State, for instance, this year, with the lure of the best football in the nation, he has seen 6,000 – 8,000 fans at road games (many buying tickets from Mizzou). In fact, the demand was so great for the Tennessee game, the Alumni tailgate party had to be moved from a large indoor facility to an even larger tented facility on the parking lot of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
So even with Mizzou mired deep down in the SEC East standings, fans are coming…and that translates into more people joining the Missouri Alumni Association and travelling to games…MORE MONEY FOR ALL!
So I understand how things are going to go with Maryland and the Big Ten Conference. To begin with, neither conference looks like they did when I was in school. Expansion…and chasing the almighty dollar…have changed the face of not only the ACC and Big Ten, but every other conference in the country. Even the Big South Conference has expanded, adding Longwood University to its membership, and, in fact, has gone to two divisions for basketball.
Simply put, Maryland (and Rutgers) have moved to the Big Ten for money…and the conference added these two fine East Coast-based schools for…you guessed it…money. The Big Ten Network sees two huge markets – Baltimore/D.C. and New York – with dollar signs in their eyes. The more cable subscribers (at $1.10 per subscriber on basic cable) they can get, the more money they make. Here’s how that works:
The owner of a cable network — such as the Big Ten Network — receives a fee from each distributor (your cable or satellite company) for each subscriber. These fees range from a few cents to an industry estimate of $5 per month per subscriber for ESPN. (That’s just ESPN. All the other ESPN channels command their own lower-but-not-unsubstantial monthly fee.) Industry insiders talking about how television has impacted college football said the BTN commands about a dime a month for cable subscribers outside the Big Ten’s geographic footprint and about $1.10 a month for subscribers inside the Big Ten footprint, where BTN lives in the expanded basic package on most cable systems.
By adding Maryland, BTN could likely get placement in the expanded basic package by cable systems serving millions of subscribers. The television markets in Washington and Baltimore — the two that would be considered Maryland’s local markets — contain about 3.4 million television households. If the league can negotiate with cable and satellite providers to get $1 more per subscriber for three million subscribers in the market, that would generate an additional $3 million per month, or $36 million per year. This is before the first ad gets sold. Rutgers is a bit more complicated. New Jersey doesn’t exist as a TV market; its population is included mostly in the New York and Philadelphia markets. It is highly doubtful the BTN would be in such demand that it would go on expanded basic for the 10.3 million households in those markets, but less than a fifth of that number would generate an additional $24 million per year. At those (very conservative) numbers, Maryland and Rutgers would pay for themselves. They also will allow the Big Ten to move into areas where the population is growing instead of shrinking
Yes, it’s that simple. Money makes the world go round.
Many of the current student-athletes in College Park are bitter, and have been doing a lot of tweeting about it. Some said they would never have gone to Maryland if not for the rivalries with the ACC teams. Others said they will never give a dime back to the school because of this. We’ll see what really happens.
ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland grad, and one of the network’s leading personalities (and board member at Maryland’s Journalism school) said he is hurt…but his love for the school makes this acceptable. Accepting more money was apparently, very important to Maryland (and Rutgers). Just this year, Maryland dropped seven sports…not enough money to go around.
This happened because the Terrapins athletics department was in a financial mess. Before she abruptly left Maryland for N.C. State, then-Athletics Director Debbie Yow (and the board) approved an ill-conceived growth plan to expand Byrd Stadium, the venerable home for Maryland football (and occasionally lacrosse). And why not? The school was enjoying success on the gridiron (Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, ACC titles) and on the court (2002 NCAA champs). The economy was good…but as we all know, in 2008, just when the suites were ready for sale, everything changed. And know this…Maryland is in a PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MARKET. They face tremendous competition from the Washington Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, Nationals and, yes, even D.C. United’s soccer team. Oh…and right down the road, more competition comes from the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles. There are only so many entertainment dollars to go around. (And, when the plan was approved, the Washington Nationals did not exist…further shrinking the pie.)
Taking on considerable debt to build new suites and expand Tyser Tower (for the high-rollers and the press) and renovate the stadium has been a disaster. It looks great…but many suites are unsold. The mess continued with the uncalled-for firing of football coach Ralph Friedgen, who has been enjoying his retirement because he is still getting millions from the school. New coach Randy Edsall may have been a very poor hire. He lost a lot of football players…didn’t like his tough ways…and has lost a lot of games in his two seasons as coach.
The bottom line is this: Maryland will make more money in the Big Ten. So will Rutgers, which is expected to announce its move Tuesday. Maryland’s athletic department is in a financial crisis now because it doesn’t take a subsidy from the university. With more money flowing in, it should never have to ask for one. That’s one less thing Maryland’s students and taxpayers will have to pay for in the future. In the ACC, Maryland could expect to make between $20-25 million per year from the league. In the Big Ten, which has its own cable network and probably will set a new all-time high when it renegotiates its Tier 1 television rights in a few years, the distribution will be closer to $40 million a year beginning in 2017. Maryland’s proud history as a charter member of the ACC means little at a time when universities must cherish every dollar they can get. The math is pretty simple. The Big Ten offers a better deal than the ACC. “We’re still living paycheck to paycheck,” Maryland president Wallace Loh said Monday. “What membership in the Big Ten does is allow us to truly guarantee the financial stability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time.”
More money will allow Maryland to handle that debt and meet its budget without taking more money from taxpayers or students. Some schools in big-revenue conferences such as the Big Ten and the SEC actually give money back to the academic side after balancing their budgets. This is obviously a better arrangement.
But still, there is the matter of the $50 million ACC exit fee. I don’t expect Maryland to pay the full amount. In most of these realignment cases, the school has negotiated the exit fee down. That doesn’t mean Maryland will pay nothing, though. The Terrapins will have to come up with a significant chunk of change on the front end to make more on the back end. Here’s a link to this story about Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank cashing in $64.5 million in stock. (Plank was a walk-on for the Terps football team and today, Under Armour is the official outfitter – for better or worse – of the Maryland athletics program…and many more.)
The bottom line advice I can give to my Maryland friends…and to those of you in Big Ten country wondering why in the world this is happening (and we know you wanted Notre Dame…)…my advice is to embrace the change. And, when your team plays at Maryland, plan to spend several days…it only takes a few minutes to ride the Metro from College Park to downtown D.C. Make a vacation out of it…the tailgate will be fun…and, I’m guessing many travelling folks will enjoy the outcome of the football game in Byrd Stadium. Maybe not in 2014, but hopefully soon thereafter, Big Ten folks will learn to “Fear the Turtle!”