Sports

Dollar signs blind Maryland officials in move to Big Ten

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Just when you think this wild game of conference musical chairs is over, the band starts up again and the craziness continues.

What we learned when Maryland bolted the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten on Monday were some sad, ugly truths about big-time college athletics.

We learned tradition doesn't matter anymore. Loyalty doesn't matter anymore. A nearly 60-year affiliation with the ACC as a founding member doesn't matter anymore.

Natural geographic boundaries that make sense from a travel perspective don't matter anymore.

Nobody in charge at College Park seems to think it's ludicrous to send the baseball team to Iowa City for a game. Or to send the golf team to Lincoln, Neb. Or the men's or women's soccer teams to Ann Arbor, Mich.

So what if these crazy-long trips keep the, ahem, student-athletes out of the classroom for even longer periods of time?

Or that it'll be a lot more expensive to send non-revenue teams to such far-flung outposts as Madison, Wis., and Minneapolis-St. Paul? That doesn't seem to matter, either.

Nor does it matter anymore what students and alumni think about these ridiculous conference realignments.

The way these moves work now is that college administrators in expensive suits meet behind closed doors in secret conference calls, just the way it went down at Maryland.

And next thing you know — ta-da! — here's another school packing its bags for greener pastures, another proud conference torn asunder, another New World Order to the ACC or the Big Ten or what have you.

No, the only thing that matters anymore to these colleges with roaming eyes is the money.

I know, I know ... that's hardly a new revelation.

But if you're Maryland, do you blow up 60 years of tradition and abandon a proud, stable conference just because the Big Ten's television deal pays out roughly $24.6 million to each of its schools while the ACC is projected to pay its schools $17 million?

In another sense, Maryland's move to the Big Ten is so deliciously absurd it sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Or something from the old Monty Python show.

Think about it: the Big Ten, which now has 12 members, is still called the Big Ten. And soon it'll have 14 members with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers (announced any moment now.)

So will they finally change the Big Ten's name?

Will they make it the Big Fourteen?

And doesn't the Big Fourteen just roll off the tongue?

As much as money is behind Maryland's move to the Big Ten, so is the chance to upgrade the football program and fill those empty luxury boxes in Byrd Stadium when the Michigans and Ohio States and Penn States come to town.

But the Terps, with six wins the past two seasons, will be cannon fodder for good teams for years to come. Maybe someday a football rivalry between Maryland and Penn State will heat up again. But it's men's basketball, the Terps' other revenue giant, that will suffer in the short term.

I keep hearing people say: "Hey, what's the big deal about Maryland leaving the ACC in hoops? It's not like the school has a real rival or anything. Duke vs. North Carolina is the only rivalry that matters in the conference."

But try telling that to the students and alumni who shoehorn into Comcast Center on cold winter nights when the Terps play Duke or Carolina, when the joint is so loud and electric you think your head is going to explode.

Think you'll get that same frenzied atmosphere when Iowa or Purdue or Northwestern comes to College Park?

Please.

OK, sure, it'll cut down on the rioting and the couch fires on Route 1 after big wins — or big losses.

But even the Big Ten's big boys, the Ohio States and Michigans and Michigan States, won't bring that same level of excitement to Terps basketball fans. And true rivalries with those schools — all so far away, with a Midwestern sensibility to most of the league — might never develop.

Let's not even talk about lacrosse and Maryland's great rivalries with Duke, Carolina and Virginia that will now be lost.

Only three Big Ten schools (Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State) even have men's lacrosse teams. And only Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State currently have women's teams.

That's not just a bummer for Maryland lacrosse. That's going from the major leagues to Single-A ball.

But again, none of it seems to matter. The deal is done. Maryland moves to the brave new world of the Big Ten in two years, and that's that.

And as for the adminstrators in expensive suits in College Park, all they see are dollar signs.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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