By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune –
In Jim Delany’s world, “very pleased” might not mean “completely satisfied.”
The Big Ten commissioner appeared to close the door on expansion in September, saying: “We are very pleased with both our current conference membership and our conference structure.”
After all, adding Nebraska gave the league a historically successful national brand and allowed it to create the lucrative ($24 million per year from Fox) Big Ten football title game.
But Tribune Newspapers learned Saturday that the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents has been told that Maryland is in serious discussions to join the Big Ten. Two sources said board members plan to meet as soon as Monday to discuss Maryland’s options.
The move, which could lead to Rutgers joining as a 14th member, would be a stunner on multiple levels.
Maryland is one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s seven original members and would have to pay a $50 million exit fee, a steep price for a program that cut seven sports in July because of a reported $4 million deficit. (Maryland and Florida State voted against the fee.)
The football program has sputtered, winning one ACC title since 1986. And it’s academically deficient, as evidenced by the loss of three scholarships for the 2011-12 season after failing to hit the minimum Academic Progress Rate.
On top of that, Delany has said that Big Ten will emphasize “quantity over quality” in expansion. He said the league’s teams “want to play each other more, not less.”
Adding a 13th and possibly 14th school would threaten rivalries and create uninteresting football matchups. Anyone excited to watch Indiana-Maryland?
Delany declined to returns calls and texts Saturday, as did several other Big Ten officials. The wall of silence gives credence to the speculation that Maryland has been invited to join the league.
One television executive called the reports regarding a Maryland move “highly surprising” and figured the motivation would be so the Big Ten Network could expand its viewership. More than 7 million people live in the greater Baltimore-Washington market.
Rutgers is located about 15 miles from Manhattan, but skeptics say it would not deliver much of the giant New York market.
“To say Rutgers gives you New York is like saying that Notre Dame gives you Denver,” one source said.
Speaking of Notre Dame, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters Saturday that Maryland’s joining the Big Ten would not come as a surprise, but “the timing of it” would.
In September, Notre Dame announced that it would join the ACC for nearly every sport except football, and Maryland’s departure would have “zero impact,” Swarbrick said.
Rutgers, meanwhile, would have to pay a $10-$20 million exit fee to the Big East.
Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton contributed.