Raise your hand if you thought realignment was done for the time being.
A story that was first reported by Jeff Ermann of Inside Maryland Sports earlier this week (subscription required) apparently has legs, as both Maryland and Rutgers are in negotiations to join the Big Ten.
If those two join the Big Ten, which according to ESPN is due to renegotiate its first tier media rights deal that expires in 2017, the conference would be up to 14 schools while also adding lucrative media markets.
Finances likely play a major role in the decision for both Maryland and Rutgers, as both athletic departments have been operating at a deficit in recent years. Maryland announced the cutting of seven sports back in early July as a result of a $4 million deficit that could exceed $17 million by 2017.
Rutgers has its own financial issues to address, including a deficit reported to be $36.7 million last December. And while the Big East is currently renegotiating its media rights deal, that money would likely pale in comparison to what the Big Ten is drawing in per school.
Adding schools with access to media markets such as New York and Baltimore would make the Big Ten even more money in regards to its media rights.
When the ACC expanded to 15 schools in September, adding Notre Dame, the conference also voted to raise its exit fee to a staggering $50 million. Of the 12 schools that voted on the measure (Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who join the league next year, did not have a vote) ten voted in favor of it, with Florida State and Maryland voting no.
At the time Maryland president Wallace D. Loh, while stating that the vote was “purely legal and philosophical,” said that in his view the increase in the exit fee made it an exit penalty that could keep schools in the conference against their will.
“The law says that when you have liquidated damages, and in advance you anticipate a breaching of the contract, we will decide what the damages will be,” Loh said. “You talk about damages, not penalties, and it has to be a reasonable estimate. That’s the law. We live in a free economy. We want people to move freely in and out of relationships. That’s the philosophical principle. What constitutes reasonable? That’s for a court to decide.
“But if the damages are so huge that it prevents the mobility, the free movement of people, then I think it’s not good for society. Others may not be looking at it from this principle, and that’s their prerogative.”
If Maryland were to need any help with finding $50 million for the exit fee, there is one person they could ask. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is selling in upwards of 1.3 million shares of his company, which according to Baltimore Business Journal would be worth up to $64.5 million.
(It’s purely a coincidence that Plank is selling stock at this time.)
The question if this move were to happen then becomes what the ACC and Big East would do. The ACC would have 13 all-sports (including football) members if Maryland were to leave, and according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports the conference would either turn to Connecticut or stay at 13.
As for the Big East, the conference would be left to pick up the pieces once again were they to end up losing two more members. And at this point one has to wonder if there are enough pieces left on the table.