Brandon Phelps Says Goodbye to Maryland - Geoff Burke
Maryland's Board of Regents voted today to move to the Big Ten. I say "Good Riddance"
This opinion piece is sure to rile up some folks from our northern neighbor, but so be it. If you want a Maryland-slanted, President Loh-approved, view of this decision, head on over to SBN's TestudoTimes and check out their discussion of why this move is taking place. It's a good read and well done. But this is my take on it.
After my initial reaction to the departure of the Twerps to the Big Ten (something along the lines of "seriously?"), I've settled on my permanent reaction: Good Riddance.
Let's get the obvious parts out of the way:
College Park is a dump. No one likes to visit there. I'm not sure how they get student athletes to want to play there, much less get regular students to want to learn there. Just look back through the twitter reactions to the announcement. Those of us who actually travel to away games - either for the pleasure of watching our teams compete or as reporters - were practically jumping for joy at the idea of never having to set foot in that wasteland again.
Their fans are assholes. OK, not all of them. Just all of them that I have encountered on my dozen or so trips into College Park and my various unfortunate chance encounters with them when they invade the Hook. Near as I can tell, their fans aren't actually fans of their sports teams. They're fans of being assholes. They strive to be as obnoxious as possible. Their vulgar chants at basketball games are every bit as indicative of their fans as their administration would want you to believe they aren't. I, for one, am very glad I will now have to deal with them less often.
So those are the obvious reasons that I think just about every one of our ACC brethren could agree with. But what really gets under my skin? This is probably where I differ from a lot of other folks:
Maryland sacrificed its non-revenue sports at the altar of football and pitifully easy revenue-sharing money. I'm sure no one has forgotten that Maryland recently decided to axe SEVEN of their varsity programs: Men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, women's water polo, acrobatics and tumbling, men's cross country and men's indoor track and field. An eighth, men's outdoor track and field, is on super-secret probation through the end of 2013.
Now, I'll give them acrobatics and tumbling. I wasn't even aware that was a sport. I'm still not sure it is. Its certainly not on the NCAA's website. But the rest? Those are the kind of sports that college athletics are about.
Seriously, the simple fact that they cut those programs says enough about their school, their alumni and their fans that I shouldn't even have to write this article.
Let me back up and explain the scenario a bit. Because of an athletics budget shortfall, Maryland saddled those eight programs with the responsibility of coming up with eight years worth of funding in seven months, and then making their programs fully-endowed by the end of those eight years - by 2020. If they couldn't reach those funding goals by June 30, 2012, the programs would be cut. The total amount needed to be raised was somewhere just under $30 million. So there's the back story.
According to Wikipedia, Maryland has 37,631 students at their school. Virginia has 21,106. So there are 78% more Maryland students at any given time than there are Virginia students. Now think about how that translates into the number of alumni that Maryland has produced compared to how many Virginia has produced.
Then you throw in the fact that Maryland is the flagship university of the state of Maryland. Yes, there are other good schools like Johns Hopkins - and hey Loyola won a Lacrosse national title! - but when it comes to all athletics, Maryland-College Park is it. They also make a big deal about having that status. Their hideous uniforms are hideous because they imitate the hideous Maryland flag.
As much as I hate to admit it, Virginia has to share the Commonwealth's spotlight with Virginia Tech - at least when it comes to athletics. Walk around Richmond, Northern Virginia and even parts of Charlottesville and you're sure to run across more Hokie fans than Cavalier fans (set aside for the moment the argument that Hokies are just more... outward... about their... obsession... with their school). I'm not saying that The University of Maryland has the entire mindshare of the state of Maryland. But they're in a pretty good position.
Alright, so they should have a ton of donors, right? Lots more alumni than Virginia, so lots more donors, right? Nope. According to their own numbers (which are only as of 2006, unfortunately), Maryland had 10% fewer athletics donors than Virginia for the fiscal year.
OK, well they have that Under Armor guy. So they probably just have a large endowment and don't need lots of little donors (make no mistake - lots of those Virginia donors give less than $500/year). Well, no that's not really right either. The Chronicle of Higher Education listed the athletics endowments as of 2008. The top five schools are all ACC schools and Virginia comes in fifth with an endowment of almost $62 million (or almost $130,000 per student athlete). Maryland is not on the list of the top 10, which goes as low as $46 million (Ohio State). So we know Maryland is below that. I can't find numbers more recent than 2002-2003 when their endowment was at $9 million (for reference, Virginia was then at $35 million, so growth in the interim is quite likely). Their own Campaign for Maryland Athletics brochure doesn't even list the size of the endowment.
I'll allow one concession: Maryland was attempting to support 27 athletics programs prior to cutting seven of them. Virginia only fully supports 23 programs. But with 78% more students - and the resulting number of alumni and the local fanbase - they should be able to handle four more sports. Not four fewer.
So what does that have to do with this move to the Big Ten? The move is all about the Benjamins. The easy Benjamins. The sit on your ass and do nothing Benjamins.
Looking at the numbers from Testudo Times, it looks like Maryland stands to bring in somewhere between $8 million and $16 million more per year than they did in the ACC simply by existing as part of the Big Ten. Yes, that's right. They could be total crap in all of their sports and they'd bring in that much more money.
Now of course, there's the issue of the $50 million exit fee from the ACC. But all indications are that they'll never have to pay that much and whatever amount they do pay (maybe something more in the $30 million range? You know, like the cost of keeping those sports teams around for another eight years) would be softened by the Big Ten helping them out initially. But after the Terps pay that back - free money!
So instead of being able to handle its finances on its own by turning to its rather large alumni and fan base - you know, like the rest of us are doing - Maryland shuttered seven programs and jumped ship for what looks like easy money.
The University of Virginia is committed to fully paying the scholarships of ALL of its student athletes from its private endowment without a dime of public money. The University of Maryland seems committed to taking the easy way out.