Liz Clarke wrote an Analysis Of Maryland’s Potential Move To The Big Ten for the Washington Post, and if you haven’t read the article yet, you definitely should. Now that the move is looking official, it’s a must read. She explains how football is the major direct driver for Maryland’s move to the Big Ten, but also how the move will have HUGE secondary implications at the school… and how one of those big implications is the funding of athletics overall.
Basically, football revenue at Maryland (and this is true at a host of other D1 programs), pays for almost all of the other teams that compete under the school’s name. When football revenue drops (as it has at Maryland since 2006), the entire athletic department suffers, and this is evidenced neatly by the fact that Maryland just went from 27 varsity teams to 20, due to financial constraints.
By moving to the Big Ten, Maryland will receive millions more in payouts, and over time, this should help their athletic department meet its budgetary needs, especially once Maryland pays back the $50M it will owe the ACC for leaving.
So while moving to the Big Ten makes long-term sense financially, and it seems to make sense for the football team specifically (bigger, better opponents and more revenue), it will impact every single Terrapins sports team in many ways, and lacrosse is no exception. So what can we expect from a Big Ten that includes Maryland (and Rutgers as well)?
I don’t know that we’ll see a Big Ten conference for men’s lacrosse exist in any real way, at least not immediately. The only Big Ten schools that have men’s lacrosse right now are Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State. Currently, PSU plays in the Colonial Conference, and OSU and Michigan are in the ECAC. So really, there is no Big Ten in men’s lacrosse. At least right now.
By adding Rutgers and Maryland however, the Big Ten takes a big step towards lacrosse legitimacy. There haven’t been serious varsity lacrosse rumblings at Indiana, Michigan State (used to have a D1 team), Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, or Wisconsin, but if anything was going to spur a change at any of those schools, the addition of two solid lacrosse programs to the Big Ten could certainly do it.
Out of all the schools I listed above, I think Northwestern, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are the strongest contenders. MSU used to have a program, and competing with Michigan is always a goal, in everything. Plus Warrior is located in the state. Wisconsin has a ton of lacrosse players on campus, and if they could activate their lacrosse alumni base, they could raise the funds, much like Michigan did. Northwestern has a storied women’s program, and it’s a great school. That one is just a good overall fit.
The above certainly doesn’t mean that schools like Iowa or Nebraska won’t add lacrosse in the future, but I wouldn’t put them at the top of the list of likely expansion candidates. If one of these schools does add lacrosse in the next five years, we can give the Maryland and Rutgers move some serious credit. And if one of these to schools were to add lacrosse? It would be huge. So maybe this isn’t such a bad thing…
My immediate reaction to Maryland leaving the ACC was, “NOOOOOOOOO!” It’s like I had just found out Darth Vader was my father. I just couldn’t imagine an ACC lacrosse tourney without Duke, UNC, Virginia and MARYLAND. It just makes sense, and I’m so used to it. I thought about every single Maryland athlete being forced on considerably longer road trips, and how Maryland football will likely never compete with the cream of the Big Ten, and then I really started to question the move.
But if the move means Maryland can support their athletic programs to a better extent, and it means they don’t have to drop additional sports (7 is enough!), then I can see why the move works. If Under Armour will pour even more money back into the school for the added exposure, and if it can help lacrosse make its way into the Big Ten in a major way, then I can even see how the move can be viewed as great for so many involved, at least in the long-term.
Listen, I’m not a huge fan of Superconferences. I don’t like the idea of athletic programs leaving regional conferences for bigger, more national conferences. I don’t like increased travel time for all athletes at a school, and I honestly worry that Superconferences get us that much closer to truly “professional” student-athletes, and a greater divide between the top and bottom of D1.
I’m also aware that this is the reality in which we live, and that for Maryland, this was move really a necessity. If these moves can spur massive lacrosse growth in the Big Ten, and throughout the country, all while keeping Maryland Athletics afloat, then I don’t have a huge problem with the move. It does seem to push the importance of athletics and funding to a new premium high, and I’m not sure that is a good thing, especially at an academic institution, but within the constraints of how things work, it might just be the best thing we could hope for.