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Men's Competition Nov 19, 2012

Players, alumni stunned as Maryland ditches ACC to join Big 10 Conference

By Charles Boehm

The University of Maryland will depart the Atlantic Coast Conference to make a lucrative move to the Big 10 in 2014, a move which dramatically alters the landscape for its successful soccer programs.

A founding member of the ACC when it was created in 1953, Maryland has built its leading rivalries through conference play with the likes of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. Both men’s and women’s soccer have benefitted from the major appeal membership in the conference – widely seen as the most competitive in the nation for soccer – presents to recruits.

“Sasho isn’t too happy this morning,” tweeted Maryland product and current D.C. United defender Ethan White ‏(@EthanWhite15), in reference to Terrapins men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski.

The university’s athletic department has been wracked by persistent budget problems, leading to a controversial decision to shut down seven sports programs over the summer: Men’s cross country and indoor track, men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving, women’s water polo and women’s acrobatics and tumbling. Men’s outdoor track was also targeted for elimination but the program saved itself by raising nearly $900,000 in private funding.

Big 10 membership offers a financial windfall thanks to its revenue-sharing policy, which distributes profits from sports events among members. This year those proceeds added up to $284 million, which broke down to about $24 million per school. Maryland was slated to get around $17 million a year in ACC proceeds thanks to a new football broadcasting deal with ESPN.

“I did it to guarantee the long-term future of Maryland athletics,” Maryland president Wallace Loh told The Diamondback, UMd’s campus newspaper. “No future president will have to worry about cutting teams or that Maryland athletics will be at risk.”

A large chunk of those revenues come from the Big 10 Network, the conference’s cable television network. But in the short term, Maryland faces a steep price for this move to the ACC’s recent hiking of its “exit fee,” a financial penalty for leaving the conference which now stands at $50 million – nearly as large as the athletic department’s entire overall budget

Media reports have cited unnamed sources inside the UMd administration who predict that fee will be negotiated down to a lower amount.

Football, the unquestioned cash cow of NCAA Division I sports, is undoubtedly at the heart of Maryland’s leap to the Big 10. But the Terrapins’ future home will offer a much different picture when it comes to soccer, particularly on the men’s side.

Indiana University is a college soccer icon and Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern have been regional and national contenders in the recent past. Due to proximity, Penn State is likely to become Maryland’s leading conference rival starting in 2014, while Rutgers – widely expected to follow Maryland into the Big 10 this week – would provide another Mid-Atlantic foe.

Yet the conference’s Midwestern core is unlikely to offer the ACC’s unparalleled prestige and competition in both men’s and women’s soccer.

“I am genuinely upset that we are moving from the #ACC. All of my rivals are ACC schools. One of the main reasons I chose UMD was ACC,” said Terps men midfielder Alex Shinsky on his Twitter feed (@Alex_Shinsky), a tweet which was subsequently deleted.

The Terps men have won 22 ACC championships to date, while coach Jonathan Morgan’s women’s team has hauled itself into contention of late and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season.

[ +Read the Maryland athletic department’s official release on the Big 10 move here ]