COLLEGE PARK—“There’s nothing to match this level of academic collaboration in any other major conference,” Kirwan said of the Big Ten consortium.
The move is likely to be seen as a defining moment for Loh, who came to College Park two years ago from the University of Iowa, a Big Ten school. Loh inherited an athletic department in financial turmoil because of disappointing revenues in football and men’s basketball and debt from a $50.8-million facelift to Byrd Stadium.
Program cuts were his short-term answer, but on Monday, Loh said the athletic department is still living “paycheck to paycheck.” He described the move to the Big Ten as a long-term antidote.
Loh said he wasn’t seriously considering a move when discussions with the Big Ten began more than two weeks ago. But as negotiations intensified, he said he was swayed by the prospect of protecting the university from painful program cuts for decades to come.
Asked which teams might be restored from men’s and women’s swimming, men’s tennis, women’s water polo, acrobatics and tumbling, men’s cross country and men’s indoor track, Anderson said he would reconvene the committee that reviewed the original program cuts and move from there.
The memory of cutting those teams weighed heavily on Anderson, who broke the news in dozens of face-to-face conversations with athletes. It helped drive the decision to find Maryland a more comfortable financial environment in the Big Ten.
Anderson and others also questioned whether the ACC had a strong enough football profile. Maryland had been among conference schools privately expressing interest in further expansion, according to ACC member representatives.
Approval for the conference move was not unanimous among the regents, who oversee the state university system. Regent Tom McMillen, a former Maryland basketball star, said he was troubled by the speed of negotiations on so large an issue.
“I was against it,” McMillen said. “I felt there was no time for an opposing view. I felt a decision like this should have been made with more consultation and deliberation.
“The decision was all about money no matter how you sugarcoat it. I wanted to hear from athletes. I wanted to hear from the ACC.”
A spokeswoman said Gov. Martin O’Malley was aware of negotiations with the Big Ten but left the decision to the university system.
Reaction was swift
As news of the possible move spread over the weekend, students, fans and alumni flocked to social media to express their distaste. A Facebook group called “Keep UMD in the ACC!” had almost 2,000 members by Monday afternoon.
Maryland sold out its lengthy tradition with the ACC, said James Booth, a junior from Hartsdale, N.Y.
“I don’t put much stock in what [Wallace Loh] says anymore,” he said. “I think he’s a businessman. He makes the university money, or is trying to, which is a good thing in some aspects. But I really feel like he’s, as far as the individual student experience, whether it be outside of athletics or within in terms of the whole ACC, it’s all about the money to him.”
The athletic benefits are most obvious in football, where Big 10 powers such as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State draw some of the largest crowds in the sport and where Maryland’s rivalries are less deep-seated.
Though Maryland football has traditionally struggled against the Big Ten, Anderson said he’s confident that with new recruiting avenues open “we will be very competitive.”
Men’s basketball, by contrast, is where fans will feel the most acute pain as they cling to memories of classic games against North Carolina and Duke that brought the College Park campus to a frenzy. Though Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State carry grand traditions in the sport, any sense of rivalry with Maryland will have to grow from the ground up.
The move also prompted concerns in lacrosse, where Maryland has built powerful men’s and women’s programs in part because of its rivalries with ACC schools such as North Carolina, Duke and the University of Virginia. The Big Ten has no equivalent powerhouses on the men’s side and only Northwestern University on the women’s side. “At first glance, it looks like a negative, because the ACC is the premiere conference in college lacrosse,” said ESPN analyst Mark Dixon.
But the jump drew support from heavyweights such as Gary Williams, who played at Maryland and coached the school to its lone national championship in men’s basketball. Williams also coached in the Big Ten at Ohio State and has served as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “I think Maryland is looking at what’s best for them for the future,” Williams said in a Sunday interview.
Political leaders with ties to the university also endorsed the move. “I go to as many men’s basketball games as I can and will miss the match-ups against teams like Duke and UNC,” said Baltimore County Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who played lacrosse at Maryland. “That said, I think this move will enable Maryland to stay competitive and generate the revenue needed to sustain a successful athletic program.”
Sun reporters Michael Dresser, John Fritze, Don Markus and Rhiannon Walker contributed to this article.