Move to Big Ten a defining one for University of Maryland president Wallace Loh
Despite the cuts, Loh said the athletic department remained in shaky financial shape, living "paycheck to paycheck." Maryland came to represent the hobbled economic model at many Division I programs, where the costs of attempting to run big-time football and basketball programs often outstrip the resulting revenues.

Coaches alluded to this reality Monday in reacting to the Big Ten announcement. Men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon recalled telling university leaders he didn't want to do any fundraising when he took the job last year. "Well that's all I've done is fundraise since I've been here," he said.

All of this financial woe heavily influenced Loh as he considered the Big Ten move. He said he did not take the possibility seriously at first. Indeed, he had said only a few months earlier that Maryland would remain in the ACC long-term. But the television revenues projected to flow from an expanded Big Ten spoke loudly.

Loh said he first learned of possible Big Ten interest two years ago at a meeting of the Association of American Universities. He said he indicated to Big Ten presidents that he would be open to a discussion but that nothing happened at the time.

He said he still didn't take the possibility seriously when Big Ten leaders inquired about a meeting six weeks ago. "That's the job of a president, to listen to opportunities," Loh said. "But nine out of 10 times, nothing comes of it. I thought it was just another meeting on my schedule."

Negotiations heated up in a hurry after Loh saw projected numbers about two weeks ago — he declined to reveal specifics — and realized that the revenues could wipe away his budget problems. But he said he was still reluctant to take on the "firestorm" of public opinion when he broached the possibility with Kirwan.

"He didn't go looking for this," Kirwan said. "But when he came to me, I told him, 'This is the most prestigious [conference] in the country outside of the Ivy League. So you owe them the courtesy of listening to what they have to say.' "

Some have criticized the secrecy of Loh's approach. The non-profit Student Press Law Center said Tuesday that the Board of Regents violated Maryland's open meeting laws by discussing the issue in closed sessions Sunday and Monday. Director Frank D. LoMonte wrote that "the purposeful exclusion of the public from the Board's deliberations reflects a disturbing indifference to the transparency obligations that accompany governance of a public institution." Kirwan has said the attorney general's office told him the regents acted within their rights.

Loh said it would have been impractical to hold public meetings on the financial terms of the deal.

But after further negotiations, he believed he would be "remiss" not to pursue Big Ten membership. What if he faced the possibility of cutting more teams in three years and someone realized he had walked away from such an opportunity?

"All I can say," he said, "is that the revenues from the Big Ten would be so large that I could go to the Board of Regents and say, 'This truly guarantees the future of Maryland athletics for years to come.' This is not hyperbole."

Sun reporters Chris Korman and Julie Scharper contributed to this article.