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Maryland moves to Big Ten to be with Penn State

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Published on: Thursday, November 29, 2012

By Margie Burns

One effect of the University of Maryland’s move to the Big Ten is that Maryland will now have a closer relationship with longtime Big Ten member Penn State.

Given the dreadful events with Jerry Sandusky of the Penn State football program, choosing to get closer to Penn State at this juncture might seem like odd timing.

But then, a lot seems odd about the move.

The University of Maryland, College Park, will owe the Atlantic Coast Conference up to $50 million upon leaving the conference. Its headships say they look to re-negotiate that exit fee.

The university seems to have gotten no guarantees, no deal, in writing. Time will tell whether officials can indeed get the exit fee reduced.

Speaking of nothing in writing, in conjunction with the abrupt announcement of that abrupt leave-taking, school officials made little noises about reinstating athletic programs previously cut because of budget constraints. Which programs and how soon cut programs may be reinstated have not been specified. So far, there is no definitive statement that programs will, in fact, be reinstated.

Meanwhile, the effect of the conference realignment on non-football athletics, like soccer, remains to sort out.

At least Penn State is geographically closer to the University of Maryland than other Big Ten schools — aside from Rutgers, the other new conference member. But it is mystifying that dealmakers seem to have assumed that Maryland will bring with it the Washington, D.C., media market. Is that really a given, now that Maryland has clarified just how much it values fan spirit?

Setting aside any larger questions about whether the athletic conferences are going to stay regional at all or whether it makes more sense to have a league of land-grant colleges, maybe the status of Penn State is key here.

Penn State, as we know, had large penalties levied against it for the ongoing sexual abuse of minors and children via its football program. The penalties, while in no sense excessive considering the abuse, are substantial: Penn State is banned from bowl games for four years, loses 10 football scholarships per year for four years and pays millions in fines. The Nittany Lions roster gets 65 scholarship players, instead of 85, for four years beginning in 2014.

No one at Maryland seems to have made a point of saying so, but one school’s penalties are another school’s recruiting opportunities, at least theoretically. The fact that Penn State is winning more football games than Maryland this season is beside the point.

Given the penalties for Penn State — no post-season, less recruiting with fewer scholarships — Maryland has to be figuring there is a big Penn State-shaped hole in the Big Ten conference, such that the Terps can move in to fill the void.

Aside from the outright penalties, it is also possible that any athletic perks at Penn State will receive heightened attention for a while.

On top of the other penalties, Penn State players are being allowed to transfer to other schools without having to wait a season to play. The team lost nine strong players who transferred before the fall semester began. None transferred to Maryland, although one went to Rutgers. The No. 2 quarterback is now said to be leaving.

Maryland’s move actually has the effect of somewhat mitigating the severity of Penn State’s penalties. Suddenly Penn State, despite disadvantages, is now not playing in quite such a stiff conference as before. (Including Rutgers probably helps, too.)

Maybe there ought to be a rule change or policy change for athletic conferences in higher education. Maybe conference realignments, or any major reshuffling in conference membership, should not be allowed for a set period of time following major penalties against any program in a conference. After all, it’s not like the Big Ten lent a hand to help Penn State avoid its abuses.

Back to the present, one question still open at this point is whether, aside from damage to the football program, there will be further loss to Penn State in the academic sector.

The late Joe Paterno burnished his reputation partly by donating massively to the university’s library and saying nice things about English classes.

Could there be an opening in connection with the arts, sciences and humanities, some vulnerability in research resources, for Maryland to attempt to exploit?

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