Maryland Move to Big 10 Fails

Jack Corcoran, Staff

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We all know the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Well, when Maryland AD Kevin Anderson and University President Wallace Loh first announced Maryland’s move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten Conference, done primarily to benefit the football team and to fix the athletic department’s financial situation, they took the equivalent of taking a well-running, albeit aging car, and drove it off a cliff. This move put a cap on the football team’s ceiling and left Maryland’s finances lagging far behind their new competitors.

For years while in the ACC, Maryland’s athletic department operated in the red, was forced to cut seven varsity sports while the conference only doled out $17 million per school in revenue distribution in 2012. Since the Big Ten dished out $24 million per member in 2012, it seemed like a no-brainer. 

In the first year of being a full-member of the Big Ten in the fiscal year of 2014, Maryland raked in $36.1 million in distribution money, more than any other member. Awesome, right? Not so much. Upon closer scrutiny, the actual payment was only $24.5 million, $8 million below what the 11 original members of the Big Ten received. The rest of the money was made up from an $11.6 million loan from the Big Ten to help ease the transition from the ACC, and when this financial boon dried up, Maryland’s revenue stagnated. 

It wasn’t felt in the 2015 fiscal year, as Ohio State’s high profile run to that year’s national championship helped the revenue distribution rise greatly, as the Big Ten on average made $46.1 million from that year. Maryland made $47.3 million in revenue that year, largely aided by the dramatic increase of the year prior. In 2016, that money dried up, and Maryland was left in a lurch. They saw a modest increase to $48.3 million, but were left lagging far behind their peers. In just two years, Maryland fell from the top half of the conference (6th) to the bottom three (12th). Not good. 

Of course, revenue distribution from the conference isn’t the only way for the department to make money. Men’s basketball is always going to draw large crowds, regardless of opponent. Yet for football, the promise of playing big time schools year in and year out like Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan were supposed to flock fans to the football stadium. Five years in, Maryland ranks 12th in Big Ten football attendance, yet to rank higher than 10th and to cap it all off, ranking dead last in attendance in 2018. 

As a result, ticket sales are well behind the rest of the Big Ten, grossing $15.3 million against the Big Ten’s average ticket sale revenue of $27.9 million. Just to barely break even during the fiscal 2017 year, they have had to raise the student fees to the highest in the conference, charging each student more than $400 in “athletics fees”. So far, financially, the move to the Big Ten has been nothing but a disaster, as the supposed benefit of granting the football program extra exposure has backfired.

When Maryland left the ACC, they weren’t necessarily a great football program, but a good one. Former coach Ralph Friedgen had guided Maryland to a mid-tier program in the conference, and save for one disastrous 2009 season where they went 2-10, they typically won five to eight games on a consistent basis. Despite going 9-4 in his final season, new AD Kevin Anderson decided that wasn’t good enough, and fired Friedgen for UConn coach Randy Edsall, who promptly went 2-10 in his first campaign. Despite the poor start, by his third season, Maryland’s last in the ACC, he was able to build the Terps back into a bowl team. The expectation was that Edsall should continue the momentum when they transitioned to the Big Ten.

But the thing is, playing teams like Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest isn’t the murderers row of Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan. Outside of maybe Rutgers, there are no guaranteed wins on Maryland’s Big Ten schedule. Maryland was lucky to pull out a bowl game appearances in 2014 and 2016, as they were benefited by soft non-conference schedules and catching programs like Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State in down years. 

Recruiting has improved, but squeaking out a top-30 recruiting class when the big time programs regularly pull in top ten classes isn’t going to close the gap that much. Plus, what top recruit is going to want to come to Maryland when the best case scenario is probably finishing third in your division with an 8-4 record? Maryland’s move to the Big Ten only confirmed one thing: regular beatdowns and zero championships.

Of course, this could all be incorrect. I want it to be incorrect. I want new coach Mike Locksley to be THE guy, to turn Maryland and its location in a recruiting hotbed into a national powerhouse. The thing is, they could have done this in the ACC. The ACC TV revenue, particularly with the ACC Network now being broadcasted on ESPN, has increased. Winning gets people in the seats, and when teams like Florida State are on the decline, Maryland would win more on the field, too. Who wants to show up when Maryland’s biggest Big Ten win was beating a 3-9 Michigan State team? Or when they lose on Senior Day 66-3?

To current AD Damon Evans: Maryland football is broke. It’s time to fix it.