Maryland's move to the Big Ten was initially met with resistance, but the Terps are thriving one year into the conference

(Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)

Published on July 2, 2015

The Terrapins men’s soccer team fans behind the goal nearest to the hill at Ludwig Field in the Big Ten championship collectively held their breath as the 86th minute approached Nov. 16.

Midfielder Mael Corboz had a chance to give this university its first ever Big Ten postseason title as he stood over a free kick in a 1-1 game against Indiana. And perhaps more importantly, he had a chance to be the first Terp to lay pundits’ and fans’ doubts on the move to the conference to rest.

Corboz bent a right-footed strike from just outside the box into the top-right shelf for the game-winning goal and raced toward the stands behind the goal. The fans who had stood silently moments before jumped up and down in celebration as Corboz and other Terps embraced a few students at the railing.

This university had received heavy flak for its decision to leave 61 years of history and tradition in the ACC behind to join the Big Ten. Yet in that moment, as the students section was in euphoria, the move seemed right for arguably the first time since the Terps officially joined the conference on July 1, 2014.

“We invest heavily for moments like this,” coach Sasho Cirovski said after the victory. “At Maryland, four words define us: building champions and pursuing championships.”

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Big Ten move and it’s the men’s soccer team that kick-started the historic inaugural season in the conference. In addition to men’s soccer winning both the regular-season title and tournament championship, other Terps teams combined to win five Big Ten titles. The university’s seven total championships this season ranked second behind Michigan’s eight.

Additionally, the Terrapins football and men’s basketball programs exceeded expectations. The football team made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in more than a decade while the men’s basketball team set a new regular-season program wins record.

In the classroom, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, comprised of member institutions and the University of Chicago, provided students and faculty with increased research and learning opportunities. The university joined the CIC on July 1, 2013 as part of an integration effort to get ready for the official Big Ten move one year into the conference.

“I always talked to the staff about [how] we weren’t going in to be competitive years later, we were going to be competitive immediately,” Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said. “I think that has proven to be the case.”

Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson talks about the university's move to the Big Ten. (File Photo/The Diamondback)

‘A stepping stone’

Media members didn’t give the Terrapins men’s basketball team much of a chance in its new conference. In a preseason poll in October, the Terps were selected to finish 10th out of the 14 teams in the conference.

Led by McDonald’s All-American freshman point guard Melo Trimble and senior leader Dez Wells, though, the Terps defied expectations. The Terps made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, capturing a victory over Valparaiso, and finished second in the Big Ten with a 15-4 conference record.

ABOVE: The University of Maryland announced in a Nov. 19, 2012, news conference that it will move to the Big Ten.

Perhaps the defining moment came on Feb. 24 when the Terps topped then-No. 5 Wisconsin at Xfinity Center, sending the student section storming onto the court. It was the start of an exciting future and helped alleviate some of the disappointment of not having rival Duke on the schedule.

“That Wisconsin game and some of the games — it’s just new rivalries and new teams,” Terps women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese said. “[The fans] adapted and adjusted really quickly because, again, it is first and foremost coming out to watch their favorite team, which is Maryland.”

The fans responded to the Terps’ success by packing Xfinity Center night in and night out. Men’s basketball had a 15 percent attendance increase and a 7 percent revenue increase with a total of 1,600 new basketball season tickets sold since April.

The numbers were also staggering at Byrd Stadium for the football team. There has been a 25 percent increase in football season ticket sales and a 14 percent increase in football fan attendance — the largest increase among member institutions.

Perhaps no team had to quash more doubters than the football team. The Big Ten is widely regarded as a much stronger and deeper football conference than the ACC. When coach Randy Edsall led the Terps to traditional powerhouses such as Michigan, which packed 101,717 fans into Michigan Stadium, and Penn State, where the Terps hadn’t ever won a game, they left both venues victorious.

“Our whole thing from the very beginning was showing progression in our football team,” Anderson said. “We demonstrated that last year. A great feeling was going and playing in places like Penn State and Michigan and coming out successful.”

Anderson rewarded Edsall for leading the Terps to a second straight 7-6 season by giving him a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season earlier this week. Edsall has also helped the Terps build for the future through recruiting, most notably by getting a verbal commitment from four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. (2016).

When the Terps joined the conference they officially became the only football team without an indoor practice facility. In an effort to keep up with the competition, and have some research opportunities as well, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Financial Committee approved the university’s plans to transform Cole Field House into a $155 million indoor practice facility.

“The combination of academics and athletics with the Cole Field House project is going to be one of a kind,” Anderson said. “I think it is going to be phenomenal for the entire university.”

The fifth-year coach has helped the Terps improve in the classroom, leading the program to its highest Academic Performance Rate in its history. Across all sports, the department had a record 11 teams receive perfect APR scores and matched a schoolwide best with an 86 percent NCAA graduation rate.

On the court, Frese led the women’s basketball team to a perfect 18-0 regular-season conference record — just the third time a Big Ten team has accomplished that feat — in addition to capturing the conference tournament championship. The team made its second straight Final Four appearance for the first time ever.

Women’s lacrosse won its regular-season title while the men’s lacrosse team earned a share of the crown. The field hockey team also won its regular-season title.

“Our biggest challenge now is to put ourselves in a position where we continue to grow and be better every year,” Anderson said. “We don’t want this to be a one year anomaly, but we want this to be a stepping stone into growing progress and that we still remain [competitive] not only in the Big Ten but nationally.”

Big Ten Network exposure

University President Wallace Loh poses with women's basketball players and coaches next to the Big Ten regular-season trophy in Xfinity Center on Feb. 23, 2014. (Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)

Former senior women’s basketball guard Laurin Mincy has family spread out all along the East Coast. As a result, many of the Newark, New Jersey, native’s family members can’t make most of the Terps’ games, especially with a significant number now played in the Midwest.

But the Big Ten Network, a television station devoted to covering the conference, allowed Mincy’s family and many other Terps’ to watch the games.

“Just giving them an opportunity to see me play whenever they wanted to was just excellent,” Mincy said. “Women’s basketball is growing as far as the viewers and the fans. ESPN does a great job of putting games on TV, but it is nothing like having a network that is strictly for your conference that shows your games just as frequently as it shows the men’s games.”

All of the Terps’ women’s basketball conference games were televised either on a national station such as ESPN2 or on a version of the Big Ten Network. Other Terps sports that don’t usually get the publicity that football or men’s basketball do noticed the benefit, too.

“I heard from people all over the country how great it was to see our team play, not only home games but away games, in high definition on a channel that’s very accessible,” Cirovski said. “That was really a big plus for the year.”

The added benefit of the network wasn’t something Frese had considered when the move was first announced in Nov. 2012. But she certainly appreciated the added coverage as her team set a program record with 28 straight wins.

“Something that really surprised me was the exposure we received nationally,” Frese said. “We’ve never in the past received that kind of exposure like we did from the Big Ten Network.”

Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon celebrates after the Terps came back to defeat Northwestern, 68-67, in Xfinity Center on Jan. 25, 2015. (Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)

Road to financial solvency

(Summer Bedard/The Diamondback)

The university’s athletic department reported about $3.5 million in operating losses during fiscal year 2014 and three years ago, the university cut seven teams from the athletic department to try to balance the department’s budget.

After cutting the teams and seeing the department’s mounting debt, university President Wallace Loh said the move to the Big Ten was necessary to secure the future of athletics at the university for at least the next 50 years.

One year into the conference, Loh said he stands by his statement: “I can say with 100 percent confidence that that is the case today.”

In February, Damon Evans, the athletic department’s chief financial officer, said the department had a plan to produce a budget surplus by 2018, but after this past year, he said he expects a surplus sooner.

“I feel like we are in the right direction to be able to do it before 2018,” Evans said. “I’m very optimistic about where we’re moving in that direction.”

Since joining the Big Ten, ticket revenue generated a total of $14.9 million, which was a significant increase compared to previous years, Evans said. The university’s distribution from the Big Ten was also an increase, at about $36 million compared to the $20.3 million the university would’ve received from the ACC, he said.

“There’s no doubt, money plays a significant role when you’re trying to position yourself to compete at the highest level, and the new dollars really helped us in that matter,” Evans said.

University President Wallace Loh addresses the crowd at the Big Ten welcome block party outside of Nationals Park in Washington on June 30, 2014. (Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)

‘True peer institutions’

Set in a varsity football team’s basement, the play Good Kids addressed sexual assault and the permanence of social media.

The play was loosely based on the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case of 2012, where a group of high school football players repeatedly sexual assaulted a girl and posted the acts on social media.

The production, which ran in the spring, was the first from Big Ten New Play Initiative, which aims to produce up to five new plays to be commissioned and produced at member institutions.

And this isn’t the first collaborative effort the university has taken part in since joining the conference a year ago and its academic consortium two years ago.

Member institutions and the University of Chicago continually collaborate on research and programs through the CIC, said Steve Fetter, academic affairs associate provost.

“It’s getting together with colleagues from a set of universities that are really much more similar to the University of Maryland than the ACC universities,” Fetter said. “These are true peer institutions.”

Its library-borrowing program, which hosts more than 90 million volumes, allows faculty and students to borrow books from any of the institutions, Fetter said.

Since the university joined the program, students and faculty have borrowed 25,000 books and the turnaround time for an interlibrary loan has improved from 14.5 days to eight days, Fetter said. The turnaround time for articles and chapters is two days, he said.

Participating CIC institutions also pool money to buy books, ebooks and ejournals together. This university contributes $200,000 a year and, over the last year, now has access to over $3 million worth of new content, Fetter said.

Students at this university can also take study abroad classes from other schools through the CIC Shared Programs Abroad and can take courses offered by other universities while on-campus.

The CIC undergraduate deans also meet twice a year and rotate around the participating universities, said Donna Hamilton, former associate provost for academic affairs and former undergraduate studies dean.

When the CIC deans visited this campus, Hamilton said they drove past the Xfinity Center and did not mention athletics. The visit focused solely on academics and included a tour of the campus, “innovative” teaching spaces, a discussion on the general education program and a session on campus race relations led by university Chief Diversity Officer Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Hamilton said.

“Obviously these folks are our competition not only in sports, but they’re our competition in terms of rankings and recruiting students and so on,” Hamilton said. “But despite that fact, there’s an enormous collegiality among all these universities and these professionals when they get together. The ACC doesn’t have as significant an operation in this regard as the CIC.”

These are only a few of the programs and opportunities offered to university students and faculty through the CIC, Fetter said.

“We’re just sort of on the cusp of this,” Fetter said. “There’s a lot more that we can do together.”

(Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)

Terps ‘moving forward’

When members of the board gathered on Nov. 19, 2012, to vote on whether this university should join the Big Ten, only Tom McMillen cast his ballot against it.

After watching the Terps’ success over the past calendar year, though, even he has changed his mind.

“This has been a great first year,” McMillen said. “On the competitiveness side, across the board, our programs were competitive. … We’ve had terrific success and I anticipate we’ll have a great year next year.”

For the year and a half before the move became official, alumni, students and fans harped on the traditions that would be lost in the transition away from the ACC. And those discussions carried into the start of the fall sports seasons.

“It was a historical change,” Loh said. “After 60 years in the ACC and [helping] found the ACC, to make a change to move in a new direction was not an easy thing to do … but I think we have truly been welcomed with open arms by all of our colleagues in the Big Ten.”

And after one year in a new conference, Cirovski said, “Right now, nobody is really talking about the ACC.”

His team helped start that initiative when Corboz slotted the free kick in November. Men’s lacrosse bookended the Big Ten dominance when it earned a share of the regular-season title on April 25.


“Obviously, we have a lot of respect for our past but we’re very forward-thinking people, just like we know that a Terrapin can’t move unless it goes forward,” Cirovski said. “So we’re moving forward and we’re excited.”

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dwayne Haskins Jr. had signed to the Terrapins. At the time of publication, Haskins had only verbally committed. This story has been updated.

Ryan Baillargeon and Ellie Silverman are senior staff writers at The Diamondback and can be reached at sportsdbk@gmail.com.

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