By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
12:10 AM CST, November 19, 2012
The University of Maryland moved closer Sunday to formally applying for admission to the Big Ten Conference and an announcement could come as soon as Monday.
The Board of Regents meets Monday and will discuss the school's proposal to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference after nearly 60 years.
It wasn't immediately certain whether a regents vote is necessary for Maryland to proceed, or if Chancellor William E. (Brit) Kirwan can make the decision on his own.
There was some sentiment on the board that the decision would be made by a vote of the regents. But others -- including powerful proponents of moving forward with the Big Ten -- believe the decision is Kirwan’s own.
A similar disagreement played out one year ago when Maryland made the decision to name the Comcast Center court for former basketball coach Gary Williams. Regents debated the matter in private session. But it was Kirwan who ultimately had the final say.
This latest disagreement added another layer of intrigue to what is likely to be a lively regents debate.
Maryland hopes to obtain the regents’ endorsement even if the vote amounts to a non-binding show of support.
Either way, Maryland is hoping to obtain the regents' endorsement. The proposal seemed to be gaining momentum Sunday, even as the plan — which took many Maryland supporters and others associated with the ACC by surprise — was the subject of passionate debate on dozens of fan sites.
The next step would be for Maryland to formally apply for admission to the Big Ten and for the conference's council of presidents to vote on it. There are multiple reports that Rutgers would follow Maryland, leaving the Big Ten with 14 members.
One of the biggest sticking points for the regents could be a $50 million fee to leave the ACC. Maryland believes joining the Big Ten would improve the fiscal health of its athletics program, which has been struggling with budget deficits, and open up new academic partnerships.
Last summer, Maryland eliminated seven teams after President Wallace D. Loh and other university leaders said they had inherited an economic model under which the school was spreading itself too thin by trying to sustain 27 sports. Byrd Stadium's modernized Tyser Tower, completed in September 2009, has been a financial disappointment.
"You look around today with what's going on, and those schools [in the Big Ten] are certainly in keeping with what Maryland feels about academics," former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams said in an interview Sunday. "You look at a school like Notre Dame that signed its own TV contract and are now partially joining the ACC. They're looking out for their university. I think Maryland is looking at what's best for them for the future. It's not about today."
Williams served as an analyst on the Big Ten Network last season after retiring in May 2011. He also continued to be employed by Maryland to help with fundraising and marketing. "I coached in the [ACC] for 22 years. There's great memories there, without a doubt. At the same time, you have to look at what's best for the university," Williams said.
Opponents cite the long tradition with the ACC and the distances between Maryland and Big Ten schools that athletes and many Terps supporters would need to travel. Penn State is the closest Big Ten school, Nebraska the farthest away. Some critics said they would like more time to study such an important proposal.
Maryland was one of the seven original members of the ACC in 1953.
Former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan said Sunday night that he is "absolutely flabbergasted" to hear that Maryland is close to leaving the league. "It's historic, all right, it's shocking to me," the 84-year-old Corrigan said from his home in Keswick, Va. "I don't get it. I don't get it at all. It just blows me away. They're a charter member of the ACC, they're not just a member. "
While he said he understands why Maryland would pursue a more lucrative television contract — "it's a money thing," he said — Corrigan said that it makes less sense than Notre Dame joining the ACC for a five-game football schedule.
"[The Terps] play the games that the ACC plays -- they play soccer, they play lacrosse -- it makes sense for them to find a league that played the same games. Does anybody in the Big Ten play lacrosse?" said Corrigan, a Baltimore native who played and coached the sport at Virginia
Neither Loh nor athletic director Kevin Anderson were available for interviews over the weekend. The pair arrived at Maryland at nearly the same time in 2010, replacing officials who had lengthy tenures at the school. Anderson quickly began an overhaul of the athletic department, saying at his introductory news conference that he wanted to take the program "from good to great." The statement referenced a 2001 book called "Good to Great" by Jim Collins that Anderson admires and that chronicles the successes of business leaders.
Schools leaving the ACC are required to pay an exit fee of about $50 million that was approved — with Maryland and Florida State dissenting — in September. Such fees occasionally get mediated and the school sometimes ends up paying less than originally requested.
Schools are required to give notice to the ACC by Aug. 15 and then wait about 10 months to leave. Given that and other considerations, it seems unlikely Maryland could start participating in the Big Ten until July 2014.
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.