Monday, November 19, 2012

Big Ten Becomes Big Tent

Big Ten Becomes Big Tent
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 19, 2012

In the multi-ring circus of college conference dominos, the Big Ten has become the Big Tent with its additions of the University of Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers University from the Big East.

Let’s see if we got this right – to see a Maryland road game, Terp fans have to schlep from the DC-area to Indiana to play either IU or Purdue; but in order to see a Butler road game, Bulldog fans have to schlep from Indiana to the DC-area to take on George Washington in an Atlantic 10 matchup. And this makes sense to whom?

Full disclosure, I am a Maryland alum living in the heart of Big Ten country for the last year and a half and now my Terrapins have followed me west by accepting the invitation to join the Big Ten, that with Rutgers, will now boast 14 in its paddock.

I should be thrilled that I will see my Terps on the Big Ten Network regularly or even in person in Bloomington, West Lafayette, Champaign, or Columbus – all drivable locales. Instead, I am disgusted – not disillusioned by what this move is all about – disgusted and replete with melancholy.

The nights in the overheated Cole Fieldhouse watching the late, great Len Bias school Duke and North Carolina defenses are irreplaceable and will not be found in a Maryland-Minnesota “rivalry.”

It’s about a little something called tradition, and it’s not just a song from “Fiddler.” The University of Maryland is a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, born 1953. The Terps played their first ACC game on October 9 that year and less than two months later their first basketball game in this storied conference.

There is no sense of tradition when it is tossed unceremoniously into the trash bin of history. There is the loss of the natural geographic rivals, and such a move will set off a cataclysmic and seismic quake around college sports. The Big East which should be called the Big Least by now will be poached and pecked away at until only a carcass remains.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse already agreed to join the ACC starting in 2013 and Rutgers is heading west with Maryland. No doubt more Big East teams will gravitate toward the ACC, but the ACC may also lose more of its teams to the SEC and the Big 12, which of course, no longer has 12 schools. Miami and Florida State seem a natural for the SEC as do Georgia Tech and Clemson, firming up their collective rivalries with Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Temple could be ACC bound along with Connecticut, Delaware, South Florida, and East Carolina. The Big East and Conference USA could find some way to merge as the dominos continue to fall. The Mountain West could split up where half end up in the PAC-12 and the others in the Big-12. Where and when they stop is anyone’s guess. But, leave the place names, directionals, and numbers out of the equations and name these behemoth mega-conferences the way it used to be done in the old NHL – Adams, Campbell, Norris, Patrick, Smythe, and Wales. What’s a little more confusion amongst friends?

“Membership in the Big Ten is in the strategic interest of the University of Maryland,” said President Wallace Loh.

This is a business deal and business only, by Loh, who has his doctorate from Michigan and served as provost at Iowa. Clearly he has more of a link to the Big Ten than the ACC. And Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, who fired popular head football coach Ralph Friedgen upon arrival, has only been in College Park since 2010. Neither man has any emotional ties to Maryland or the conference.

And yet, this business deal will cost Maryland a $50 million exit fee – this on the heels of the school losing seven sports due to a budget crisis. Maryland is hopeful of recouping such loses as part of a bigger media market – one that will stretch from New York City to DC to Lincoln, NE, a mere 1,055 miles from College Park.

The picture of Chancellor Brit Kirwan in The Washington Post makes him look like a grieving father. How and why did he go along with this?

I am not disillusioned to think that this move isn’t all about the almighty dollar. Chasing the vaunted “Benjamins” is certainly nothing new in this world of the meandering schools jumping from conference to conference in search of a bigger payday.

This cavalcade of musical conferences is one major reason why children don’t know their geography. (That it’s not taught in schools any more is a rant for a future column.) Notre Dame to the ACC (sans football)? Let’s not forget the “A” and “C” stand for Atlantic Coast and South Bend, IN doesn’t even touch Lake Michigan, let alone the Atlantic Coast. San Diego State and Boise State to the Big East for football? Is there any wonder no can read a map anymore? It’s wrong – philosophically wrong, geographically wrong and it harmful to real student athletes.

There is too much travel time and time away from the classroom for genuine student athletes to “make the grade,” as is the old adage. But seriously, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking colleges and universities are turning out Phi Beta Kappas when most don’t even graduate. Throw out the statistics that lump all sports together showing a 70-plus percent graduation rate full of golfers, tennis, lacrosse and field hockey players when it’s the high revenue sports of football and basketball that drive those rates into the ground.

The whole notion of the traditional student-athlete is gone, but this is nothing new. Millions of dollars are made from their labors – but, make no mistake, college athletes should not be paid money. They are already paid with an education should they choose to avail themselves of the opportunity given them. That is their choice. Let’s go back to the days when freshmen did not play – give them a chance to become acclimated to the college experience and lifestyle, then give them their eligibility. Those who do not turn pro, and that would be 98 percent of college athletes, allow them time to complete their degrees after their eligibility has expired. Those who are not academically qualified should not set foot on a college campus. Bobby Knight was right in the 1980s when he said, to much improper derision, that college is not for everyone.

“This is a real bad omen for college sports,” said Tom McMillen, Maryland alum, member of its Board of Regents, and three-term member of Congress who voted against the move to the Big Ten. According to The Washington Post the location of the Regents’ Board meeting was kept secret. (11/19/12) What were they afraid of? Perhaps a swarm of unhappy students and alumni wishing to retain Maryland’s tradition, history, and dignity.

Kristi Toliver, an integral part of the 2006 NCAA Championship women’s basketball team Twittered, “The big10? That’s like exchanging a Bentley for a Buick.”

Maryland looks desperate to jump so quickly at the invitation from the Big Ten. Clearly this is about the one sport that drives the bus – football. Maryland can barely get 35,000 to show up to Byrd Stadium to watch the Terps get clobbered by Florida State, but Loh and Anderson are salivating over the possibility of SRO crowds when the Buckeyes and Wolverines come a’ callin’.

But the flip side, is who will schlep to Minneapolis or Iowa City when the drive from College Park to the Research Triangle to see Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State is less than five hours. Shorter still to see Virginia Tech or Virginia in Blacksburg or Charlottesville respectively. This move is neither fan friendly nor family friendly.

Maryland great, Harvard Law grad, and ESPN analyst Len Elmore said of Maryland’s abandonment of the ACC, “sad,” and “a bad move. I didn’t think my alma mater would be looking for a money grab, one of the most pernicious things in all of college sports.”

Fellow alum and ESPN analyst Adrian Branch also had misgivings about the move. “I’m in mourning right now,” he said, via an ESPN transcript. “I’m missing the tradition and history and pride and what I shared as an ACC player. That’s been my identity as a basketball player.”

In a non-scientific poll conducted on-line by The Washington Post on Monday, November 19, of the nearly 8,300 votes cast, the margin was two to one against the move from the ACC to the Big Ten.

Terrapin alumni and fans should voice their displeasure and objections to this move via their wallets by withholding financial contributions to Maryland’s Alumni Association and Terrapin Club. After all, if Maryland will realize untold riches through the Big Ten, it certainly doesn’t need the hard earned money from disrespected fans and alumni.

Who will schlep from College Park and its environs to Big Ten country where half its 12 schools are in the Central Time Zone? While Happy Valley, PA is a mere 130 miles from College Park, the other 11 campuses are no less than 330 miles away – Columbus, where the Horseshoe is traditionally sold out a year in advance.

ACC School
Miles from U of MD
Big Ten School
Miles from U of MD
Virginia (Charlottesville)
Penn State (Happy Valley)
Rutgers (New Brunswick)
Ohio State (Columbus)
Virginia Tech (Blacksburg)
Michigan (Ann Arbor)
Duke (Durham)
Michigan State (E. Lansing)
No. Carolina State (Raleigh)
Indiana (Bloomington)
No. Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Purdue (W. Lafayette)
Wake Forest (Winston-Salem)
Northwestern (Evanston)
Boston College
Illinois (Champaign)
Wisconsin (Madison)
Georgia Tech (Atlanta)
Iowa (Iowa City)
Florida State (Tallahassee)
Minnesota (Minneapolis)
Nebraska (Lincoln)

Mileage data courtesy of The Washington Post.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he is a member of the Alumni Association and Terrapin Club – for now.

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