Maryland's Big Ten Membership Not Lifting Football

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The University of Maryland hoped membership in the Big Ten Conference would help elevate its football program, but that has not been the case.

Athletic event ticket sales and outside donations to the football program fell in the fiscal year ending last June 30 for the second year in a row, according to financial figures obtained in a Public Information Act request by The Baltimore Sun.

Publicly available statistics show that home football attendance, which hovered close to 40,000 from 2015 to 2017, dropped to about 35,000 in 2018. It is believed that the heatstroke-related death of Terrapins offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June 2018 had an impact on last season's attendance. 

Maryland joined the prestigious Big Ten Conference in 2014 with the goal of stabilizing athletic department finances, elevating the football program and rejuvenating the fan base, The Sun reports. The school left the ACC after 61 years with hopes that the more potent and football-centric Big Ten would help consistently fill Maryland Stadium’s 54,000 seats. 

To balance its budget, the school relies heavily on guaranteed revenues distributed to member schools by the Big Ten, which has lucrative television deals with ESPN and Fox Sports.

The financial reports covering 2018 and earlier show Maryland’s share amounted to $40.6 million in the last fiscal year, up from $37.3 million in 2017 and more than double the distribution of $19 million that it received in its final season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The athletics budget showed a surplus of $475,000 in the last fiscal year.

"There is work to do to rebuild the financial trajectory of Maryland athletics," university athletics spokeswoman Jessica Jennings told The SunShe said the Big Ten has generally placed Maryland "on a stronger financial footing" but that the university's priorities remain "increasing the number of donors supporting the annual fund and rejuvenating ticket sales."

On-field success — or lack thereof — has not helped matters. The Terrapins have had only one winning season since joining the Big Ten, their first in the conference. Since then, they have gone 18-31.

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