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Maryland exits ACC, joins Big Ten

University terminates 59-year membership with conference

The University of Maryland announced Monday it will join the Big Ten and depart from the conference it helped found.

A charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland will end its almost 60-year membership and begin Big Ten competition in 2014. ESPN.com reports that current Big East member Rutgers will follow, bringing Big Ten membership to a total of 14 teams.

“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit. For the past 60 years the Atlantic Coast Conference has exhibited leadership in academics and athletics. This is our foundation and we look forward to building on it as we move forward.”

By accepting its Big Ten invitation, Maryland expects a much-needed revenue boost for its athletic department. Last year Maryland cut seven teams after projecting a $17 million budget deficit by 2017. In 2011, each Big Ten school received $24.6 million in revenue sharing from media rights — the most of any conference — whereas the ACC gave about $17 million to each member.

Maryland faces a $50 million exit fee for terminating its ACC membership. When the conference voted earlier this year to raise its buyout penalty from $20 to $50 million, Maryland and Florida State were the only schools to vote against the proposal.

“It appears that schools are making decisions based on what’s in the best interest of their universities,” Virginia football coach Mike London said. “Obviously there are financial implications to it. But it’s been a shock.”

The ACC has featured prominently in college athletics’ continual realignments. The conference announced Sept. 12 that Notre Dame would join in all sports except football, and it added Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East last fall.

After welcoming six former Big East programs since 2004, the ACC must now contend with its own defector. Maryland’s departure leaves an uneven number of football competitors, and the ACC will likely seek another program to balance its Atlantic and Coastal divisions, which now include only 13 members.

“I know with us just getting Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame that the end of all this conference realignment may not be over,” London said.

The conference extended its east coast market with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, but the Big Ten now encroaches on the ACC’s once-firm hold on the area. By adding Maryland — and potentially Rutgers — the Big Ten could have programs in the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey/New York region.

Although Maryland football has won just six games in the last two years, its absence will noticeably affect other ACC sports. The Terrapins were key to the conference’s identity as a nationally renowned basketball powerhouse. Maryland captured the 2002 NCAA tournament and made 11 straight tournament appearances from 1994 to 2004. The Terrapins have also featured prominently in lacrosse, where they finished second in the NCAA tournament the last two years.

The Maryland move particularly impacts Virginia, which anticipated the Terrapins as one of its “primary partners” in football and basketball — ensuring the two schools would play one football game and two basketball contests each year. The Cavaliers’ programs consistently compete with Maryland for local recruits. London, however, said he does not think the high-profile conference switch will make the Terrapins more attractive to prospective players.

“I think that those young men in that D.C., Maryland area probably have more of an opportunity by coming to Virginia to be seen by their parents and their community … as opposed to traveling an away Big Ten slate,” London said. “The media market that they’ve talked about will enhance their opportunities, and I’m quite sure it will. But at the same time when you talk about parents and families seeing you play [that] is going to be important, as well.”

Maryland is the second program to leave the ACC since its inception in 1953. Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage insists the conference’s outlook remains positive.

“Even with the departure of the University of Maryland, the Atlantic Coast Conference will continue to be a leader in academics and athletics among all conferences nationally,” Littlepage said in a statement. “That leadership position, the working relationship of ACC member schools, and the future of the ACC continues to be strong.”

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