Terps leave ACC in a bind

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland is still here, still in College Park, right where it’s always been in the heart of ACC country.

It’s just not going to be in the ACC much longer, and that leaves the conference with a gaping hole to fill -- quickly.

ACC officials have no time to waste. In the wake of the announcement that Maryland will join the Big Ten in time for competition in the 2014-15 academic year, the ACC needs to find a new member while at the same time assure its current and pending members -- and Notre Dame -- that everything is wonderful, even if it’s not.

And it’s not.

ACC commissioner John Swofford has to swiftly become a better recruiter than Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher combined. He must re-recruit the league’s athletic directors and presidents along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which are expected to join the ACC in 2013. If Maryland -- a financially struggling founding member of the ACC -- can find a way to leave the conference, any program can.

Swofford can’t let the Terps be trendsetters, especially at a time when instability has reigned in college football, and fear has a tendency to drive decisions. As devastating as this news is to the ACC, it will recover from it. What the ACC can’t afford to have happen is for this to open the door for Clemson, Florida State or Miami to leave. The ACC can’t allow this move to set a precedent, like West Virginia’s did for Pittsburgh and Syracuse to leave the Big East.

Expect another wave of rumors, more speculation on conference realignment, more tweets, more panic and more inaccurate information flowing freely through social media until the ACC finds an answer and can make a convincing case that the conference is stable. Good luck with that, by the way. If an exit fee of more than $50 million can’t guarantee stability, what can?

Two options to replace Maryland could be Louisville and Connecticut -- programs smart enough and willing to escape the drowning Big East. The ACC has to find a program that meets the league’s academic standards, fills a competitive need, is willing to share revenue and is available on short notice.

This was a self-absorbed, quietly plotted move that had to have blindsided the ACC. Despite weeks of discussions with the Big Ten, Maryland president Wallace Loh said he informed Swofford of the university’s intent to leave the ACC at noon on Monday.

“I believe there will be some awkwardness,” Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said of his program’s lame-duck status in the conference. “Those are my colleagues. I’ve grown up with a lot of them. John Swofford is a friend of mine. Was a friend of mine … don’t know after today.”

Odds are Anderson won’t be on the Swofford family's holiday mailing list this year.

The ACC and its programs were in a scheduling crunch to begin with, as the conference had to quickly adjust from a nine-game league schedule to an eight-game league schedule. Those discussions must come to a screeching halt until the conference figures out which program will take the place of Maryland.

Maryland -- much like its quarterbacks this year -- will be replaced. The ACC won’t be starting from scratch to find a list of candidates. It already has a pool to choose from.

The more difficult challenge will be convincing the rest of the ACC and its fans that the conference remains on stable footing despite just having a Maryland-red carpet yanked from underneath its feet.