There have been few deterrents to conference realignment. It is largely been about survival of the fittest, and programs have followed the money and the security of bigger conferences. The Big East gained and lost several teams over the past decade before essentially ceasing to exist. It’s called the Big 5 for a reason, and that reason is the new American Athletic Conference isn’t one of them.
In the tale of conference expansion there was one oddball, Maryland. Maryland followed the ambitious plans of former athletic director Debbie Yow until Yow left for NC State and Maryland was out of money. They jumped to the more lucrative market of Big Ten to solve this problem, which they themselves had created.
However Maryland was late to the party. The ACC, which had gained Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, some of Notre Dame, and now Louisville through expansion took measures to inoculate itself against the contagion of poachers. This this meant changing the conference membership agreement. The buyout to leave the conference was raised from around $12 million dollars to $52 million dollars in quick succession.
Maryland voted against that raise, as it was already negotiating with the Big Ten. It claimed the exit fee was illegal and agreed to join the Big Ten. The ACC sued to collect in North Carolina State Court on November 27, 2012, and the legal fight commenced.
That legal fight is now over, the two sides having reached a settlement where Maryland will pay $31 million of the original $52 million.
The suit has accomplished what the ACC and its core members intended, to deter future attempts to leave the conference and maintain its seat at the big boy table. That means that stability seems to have returned to the Conference. With that stability, schools can focus on making their current situations work. There may always be the threat of the almighty dollar, but now schools know that they will have to pay.
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