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Robison: UMD move for more than greed (Nov. 29)

Matthew Robison | Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last week, Peter Steiner closed his Sports Authority column about conference expansion with the question, “How long until the next domino tumbles to the ground?”

As it turns out, we only had to wait one week. Louisville announced Wednesday it would make the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Cincinnati and Connecticut are desperately trying to leave the Big East like rats scurrying off a sinking ship. North Carolina’s athletic director had to send an email to the media and alumni reassuring them the rumors of a Tar Heel move to the Big Ten were false.

With all the recent conference realignment occurring in collegiate athletics has come a great deal of negative backlash. People are calling the moves greedy, money-grabbing moves by university heads and athletic directors and narcissistic, power-grabbing moves by conference commissioners.

But I’m okay with it for one specific reason. As a Baltimore native, I grew up a fan of Maryland athletics. Last year, athletic director Kevin Anderson proposed cutting eight athletic programs because of a $4 million budget deficit. By 2017, that deficit was expected to grow to $17 million.

Maryland’s men’s basketball and football revenues, every school’s meat and potatoes, were not doing enough to keep the rest of the department afloat. Anderson allowed each team to perform its own fundraising to keep itself alive, but only the men’s outdoor track and field team could do so. Men’s cross country, men’s indoor track and field, men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, women’s water polo and competitive cheer all got the ax.

Hundreds of athletes lost their scholarships. Even if those athletes were not on scholarship, a major part of their collegiate experience was nonetheless taken away. These athletes had been playing the sport they love for their entire lives. Finally, they had gotten the opportunity to do it on an elite level in the ACC.

So the decision by Anderson and university president Wallace Loh is acceptable. If the move to the Big Ten prevents a disastrous situation like that from ever happening again, I’m all for it. Some of my other hometown schools, such as Towson, have been forced to shut down the men’s soccer and baseball teams. They’ve reallocated those resources to sports that are cheaper to run like tennis. Towson, unfortunately, doesn’t have the luxury of being courted by a major conference to increase its revenues.

Maryland was in that fortunate situation. So was Louisville. Ultimately, the athletic director and the leaders of those universities who have moved conferences, at times severing decades-old regional ties, did so for the long-term health of the athletic department.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.
 

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.