Maryland coach Randy Edsall can still remember that first call.
More than a year ago, as he sat behind his desk mired in day-to-day football operations, his phone buzzed while flashing the number of athletic director Kevin Anderson. “If we have the opportunity to go to the Big Ten,” Anderson asked him, “what would you think about that?”
Edsall was well aware of the Terrapins’ history as a 1953 charter member of the ACC. Having guided UConn from the FCS to the FBS, he knew all too well the difficulty of such a transition. And in that brief pause, while Anderson waited for an answer, Edsall still wasn’t quite certain about fans’ potential reaction. But he didn’t hesitate.
“I told him if we had the opportunity, we should jump at it,” Edsall told ESPN.com, before letting out a laugh. “And if we don’t -- then I told him they ought to fire him.”
Nearly 200 miles away, in Piscataway, New Jersey, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood felt similarly. There was no need to weigh the pros and cons of moving up to the Big Ten. The answer was simple: If they invite us, accept the invitation.
“With all the movement that was going on in the world of college football, it was kind of like musical chairs -- and you knew there weren’t enough chairs for everyone,” Flood said. “We were excited because the Big Ten was our first choice; it was our destination conference.”
Neither head coach was particularly forthcoming about when that first call came in, but they both said there was no hesitation on their part. The Big Ten offered more national exposure, increased finances and more prestige. It was a no-brainer.
So on Tuesday, 19 months after officially accepting their invitations, Edsall and Flood have seen those phone calls come full circle. Rutgers and Maryland are now officially members of the Big Ten. And both coaches are hoping to carry this change -- and the accompanying excitement -- and parlay it into a renaissance for their respective programs.
Maryland already watched its ticket sales climb 35 percent. Rutgers sold nearly 1,900 more season tickets by May, and it’s already planning to set up an auxiliary press box for its conference opener against Penn State. Neither team has played a conference game -- they technically haven’t even been members for 12 hours -- but both coaches have already experienced a positive recruiting impact.
Even the schools’ most recent recruiting classes admitted as much, days before reporting to their respective programs.
“I don’t want to say it sold me on Maryland, but it was something that was critical to have in the back of my mind during the decision-making process,” Maryland freshman defensive end Jesse Aniebonam said. “It definitely motivated me to be more excited and more pumped to be joining Maryland’s team.”
Added Rutgers tailback Rob Martin: “Most definitely, being in the Big Ten helped a lot.”
That’s not to say the moves are without risks. Sure, there are plenty of positives -- but there is no guarantee of success. Will Rutgers become the whipping boy of the East? Can Maryland hold its own in a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State?
Edsall and Flood know those questions are out there. They know this season will set the tone for the futures of their programs, that they are transitioning to a conference with a reputation for physical teams and hard-nosed running games. They know they will have to prove they belong.
“We’re the new kid on the block, and you got to go out and earn your stripes,” Edsall said. “We do know that. And we’ve been working very, very hard to make sure we put forth our best effort when we line up this fall.”
In the meantime, before that first game, both football staffs will spend an inordinate number of hours in the film room and with cut-ups downloaded to their laptops. Edsall said his staff is doing everything they can to prepare for 10 new opponents on this season’s schedule. Flood said his staff took laptops on the road in May, a month before they usually break down opponents, so they could get a jump-start.
But, to both coaches, the thought of spending twice as much time on preparation this season -- after all, those schedules are entirely different -- is worth the work.
“What this [conference move] does is it gives you a pathway to the national championship,” Flood said. “It’s hard to foresee an undefeated or one-loss Big Ten champion not in the final four. So now you’re in one of the five power conferences and you have the opportunity, in the right kind of season, to play for it all.
“Everyone wants that kind of opportunity.”