To help sell Big Ten, Maryland dropped own comments online

At the University of Maryland, the sports slogan is "€œFear the Turtle."€ But when word came last year that Maryland was leaving its longtime athletic home in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten, Terrapins fans and alumni feared the move.

Well, maybe not necessarily feared it so much as plain hated it. No more basketball games against hated Duke? Trading in Tobacco Road for "€œHello, Columbus?" What about 60 years of tradition?

So if you’€™re with the university and you want to sell this move -€” which takes effect starting next fall -€” what do you do? For one thing, you hit the Internet.

According to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun via a Public Information Act request, university employees put comments in support of the Big Ten shift onto various websites, and UM planned to use a public relations firm to plant even more.

Among the documents obtained is an email from last November after the news broke, in which Maryland’€™s assistant vice president for marketing and communications, Brian Ullmann, wrote to deputy athletic director Nathan Pine: "We knew that in the absence of our messaging during this initial stage, most fans would react emotionally and negatively. That has occurred, and clearly the message boards and comments sections skew heavily negative. Several of us placed comments on boards and media sites last night to help balance it out."

Furthermore, Ullmann told Pine the university would "engage professional assistance in helping to drop positive messages into the blogs, comments and message board sites. I will arrange for this service today."

Regardless of what Ullmann’€™s email said, Pine told The Sun: "The Athletic Department did not engage in anything of that nature."

Another document showed that a PR consultant recommended that Maryland try to control the message by leaking the news to one of its best-known alums in sports media, ESPN’€™s Scott Van Pelt.

"Scott Van Pelt is a powerful voice in the media and a loyal UMD grad," consultant John Maroon wrote to Maryland. "It would be in our best interest to let Van Pelt break the story and talk about all of the positives."

Maryland ended up not following the suggestion.

Give the university credit, however, for not hiding the fact that this is about money. School president Wallace Loh said at a news conference last year: "No. 1, by being members of the Big Ten Conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come."