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Realignment-Followers Hold Their Breath As Blowback Increases Against Maryland’s Move

exploding-cigarWhen suddenly, almost out of nowhere Maryland announced last fall that it would be leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, college sports fans gasped.  Plenty of big name schools have changed affiliations over the past three or four years, yes, but none had done so quite as unexpectedly as Maryland.

The Terrapins — members of the seemingly stable ACC since 1953 — were striking out on their own to join what had always been perceived as a Midwestern conference.  And it happened just when expansion and realignment stories appeared to be slowing down, giving way to talk of a new college football playoff.

Since Maryland’s announcement, rumors have since swirled of further ACC defections.  To the Big Ten.  To the Big XII.  And to the SEC.

Yet Maryland’s move is being held up in court by the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Last month the league’s lawsuit demanding a $52 million exit fee was upheld by a North Carolina judge.  As things continue to play out in the courtroom, the court of public opinion is weighing in on the situation, too.  Maryland hasn’t been winning in that court either.

At issue is the school’s rushed decision to jump conferences.  School president Wallace Loh has said the move needed to be fast and quiet due to to a non-disclosure agreement Maryland entered into with the Big Ten.  Critics like former Terp athlete and Maryland congressman Thomas McMillen have said it was all too fast and too quiet.  McMillen wrote in November:


“(A) change of this magnitude should not be made over a weekend, with minimal documentation, little transparency and no input from anyone who might be opposed to it… Public universities receiving taxpayer money are supposed to operate under shared governance, but what happened at Maryland was governance by secrecy and exclusion.”


How much secrecy?  The Washington Post recently asked the school for a copy of its contract with the Big Ten.  The school said it didn’t keep one.  Asked then for a copy of the information the school provided board members as they made their Big Ten decision, the school again balked.  According to McMillen it was a “single piece of paper outlining the proposal, and it was taken away” at the end of the group’s meeting last November.

Now Maryland faces a lawsuit that was not thrown out by the first judge to hear it as well as internal friction over how quickly the move was planned and announced.  Could it be that Maryland’s exit from the ACC will finally be the one that slows the current expansion/realignment boom?  After all, in other recent high-profile moves the threat of lawsuit has usually given way rather quickly to a renegotiated exit fee.  And most schools have managed to put forth a “we’re all on the same page” spin even when there have been snubbed toes and hurt feelings behind university walls.  At Maryland, there seems to be a bigger internal rift than we’ve seen in past realignment cases.

In the end, the Terrapins will wind up in the Big Ten with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  But that move could be so slow and so painful — in terms of exit fees and smeared reputation — that other schools might not be so quick to switch conferences moving forward.

Heck, some schools might even take a whole week to mull such decisions.

For now, all eyes remain on Maryland.  Until the Terps manage to free themselves from the Atlantic Coast Conference, don’t count on any other major dominoes to fall.

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