Kyle Goon: Cash grabbing in realignment has higher purpose
I've been hit on both sides the last two weeks.
I'm the only sportswriter in my family, and the only Marylander many of my Utah colleagues know. A lot of folks have singled me out: What do I think about Maryland moving to the Big Ten? Isn't realignment crazy?
I've spent a lot of time, like every other college sports observer, watching conferences break up and re-form into so-called "super conferences" of colleges with little or no similarities except that they are colleges. And they all want money.
I've shaken my head a few times watching this seemingly endless cycle of back-room dealing and pledge-promising.
Most people will say universities are simply jumping through hoops to grab cash. But in one sense, we all must ask ourselves: What's so wrong about that?
Consider that we believe education is one of our most important priorities, yet the cost of going to a four-year university can exclude many people from even going. And as the country still struggles with economic doldrums, it's harder, yet also more important, to get a college degree.
As an average-performing student, I had a partial scholarship to go to the University of Maryland. Enrolling only four years later, my younger sister was a 4.0 student and got less financial aid than I did because admission was much more competitive. Tuition was higher by the time she went, as the state government had voted for the first tuition hike in years.
Now the average Maryland education, according to the school's office of undergraduate admissions, is $23,094 per year for in-state students. Out-of-state students will pay $41,473 a year. This is a public school.
But despite the sky-high costs of education, Maryland is still not immune to the budget difficulties that other universities face. Since I've left, a number of faculty I cherish and respect have been laid off as the school pursues the more cost-effective route of hiring adjuncts and part-timers to offset spending. The athletic department has a well-publicized debt that forced the school to cut seven sports this year.
This problem is not unique to my alma mater: The general trend is that education is more expensive, yet colleges have to cut costs at the expense of education.
Who am I to say that Maryland is wrong for moving to the Big Ten Conference, where multiple media outlets have reported the school will make $100 million more by 2020 than it would in the ACC?
Covering sports for a living reminds me that there are more important things in life than sports. For college students such as my sister and the kids I've covered in high school who want to get a college education, a university should be always in search of ways to get revenue. Moving to the Big Ten makes sense for the current and future students of Maryland and the state taxpayers, who get some measure of financial relief.
In a larger sense, we shouldn't blame the schools: We should blame the system. It's true that conference realignment can be painful. It breaks up rivalries, it often increases travel times and costs, it hurts traditions and fan bases. But television money will always be a powerful motivator for schools to break old ties and form new ones. As long as tuition is sky high and budgets are being slashed in other words, forever it will be a reality.
It may be hard to watch university presidents and athletic directors grovel and kiss up all for the sake of a dollar. But it might be easier for us all to swallow when we consider how much impact that dollar can have far beyond the football field.