One word: moneybags. From CBS' Dennis Dodd.
SEC No. 14 down to Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Missouri. May not happen until '13.
Lest you think Dodd has a source here, he's just "projecting". Still, that's the first time I've heard Maryland in connection with the Evil Empire of the Southeast, so it's worth marking down this day for posterity's sake and all.
We always thought that Virginia Tech, UNC, or maybe Florida State would be a target for the SEC's 14th team to go along with Texas A&M, which would perhaps force a cash-strapped Maryland to seek alternative conference alignment. That's still a possibility, of course, but Maryland joining the ESS-EEE-SEE is an interesting thought.
It's not without its sense. People have been saying for quite some time that FSU won't join the SEC because Florida won't have them. With the Florida schools out of the equation, Maryland is one of the few that checks all the boxes: they're somewhat of a fit geographically, bring a new TV market, a decent program in football who won't challenge the top tier, a strong program in basketball who strengthens the conference, and some academic legitimacy. UNC does the same. VT and Mizzou do that too, only switch the comments about football and basketball, which probably makes them a bit less desirable (the SEC already has more legitimate football programs than it knows what to do with).
Based on the relative strength of all the programs, Maryland is probably the least likely, but stranger things have happened. And that would obviously make Maryland's well-documented financial troubles melt away; no conference can compare to the SEC for money-making ability, at least right now.
But given the choice, I'd prefer the Big Ten to the SEC, or perhaps even a revamped ACC, depending on the changes that take place. Culturally, a school like Maryland would be out of place in the SEC, and with more powerhouses than even the Big Ten possesses, upward mobility in football would be difficult. Maryland's been a northern outcast for a few decades now, and I'm not too keen on being even more of one. And sticking the Terrapins in the SEC East - made up of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt - is downright mean. (Though games against Tennessee and at the Swamp would, admittedly, be pretty cool.)
The Big Ten has always made sense to me because, despite it being mostly a Midwestern division, Maryland would have at least one border school (Penn State) and very possibly another East Coast member (Syracuse, perhaps?) to form an important Eastern bloc in the conference. And besides, the culture of the schools - most of which are large publics with good academic reps and a "northern" culture - fit with Maryland. There wouldn't be any geographic allies in the SEC for Maryland, and the southern culture of the schools isn't one that Maryland shares. That's the making for the ACC Pt. II, plus money and minus the rivalries.
But hey, money can fix darn near anything. If the SEC called, I'd have to guess that Maryland's interest would be pretty high, even if only for financial reasons. Sounds like we're still a long ways off, though.