On Nov. 17, I attended the Florida State-Maryland football game down in College Park. It was a beautiful day for a noon kickoff, with the Terrapins playing a conference game against the 10th-ranked team in the country.
On the wall of the south end zone, the school proudly displayed its Atlantic Coast Conference championships dating back to the 1950s. Maryland fans were few and far between, with the team having only a handful of wins after a second straight disappointing season with a new coach. So it was surprising to read, just after returning home from the game, that Maryland had been invited to and decided to join the Big Ten conference starting in 2014.
Why would the Big Ten want Maryland, and why would Maryland want to leave a league that it helped found almost 60 years ago?
The university’s athletics program has been running a budget deficit for a while now and sees more money elsewhere. Projecting a budget deficit of $17 million by 2017, the athletic department cut seven teams from their rosters last year. The key factor is the Big Ten’s media revenue, which is much greater than the ACC’s.
The Big Ten has its own TV network and more lucrative contracts with national broadcasters. Last year, every Big Ten conference school received $24.6 million in revenue from sharing their media rights contracts. That was the most of any conference in the NCAA.
The ACC distributed $17 million to each of its schools.
This also means more exposure for the program. The Big Ten regularly has feature games of the week across several networks. Lately, except for some marquee matchups with the leading teams, the ACC has been relegated to Thursday nights on ESPN, up against NFL action on a week night. This will also allow Maryland to gain more geographic exposure, breaking out of a scattered ACC conference that runs from Boston to Miami.
Both of these factors are also very important to Maryland’s key sponsors, Capital One Bank and Under Armor. And what makes the sponsors happy makes the school happy. Maryland believes that joining the Big Ten is so important that it’s willing to buy its way out of its ACC relationship by paying a $50 million penalty. No one is quite sure where that money is going to come from, but the school believes it’ll find a way, because it’s so critical.
So what does the Big Ten get out of this?
In addition to Maryland, it also invited Rutgers, which would bring the conference from 12 to 14 schools (the conference name is completely irrelevant to the number of schools, for some reason). Last year’s conference total media rights revenue of $295 million would now have to be shared with two more schools. To pay for that, it would decrease the share of Penn State and every other existing conference member by $3.5 million.
The Big Ten believes that it can grow the entire pool by asking more from sponsors, who will pick up exposure in the NYC area through Rutgers, as well as the DC-Virginia-Maryland beltway. The conference will also try to further expansion of its Big Ten Network into more TV subscriptions.
What do you think as a Penn State fan? Is it worth solidifying and expanding the conference so that you can see your team play Maryland? Do you even care about playing Maryland or Rutgers?
I’m not sure I would be. I’d probably rather see more games against traditional rivals and keep my money, instead of letting smaller programs cash in.
Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?