Wednesday, November 28, 2012
No-brainer add for ACC, Louisville
By Andrea Adelson
This move was not about TV sets, or TV deals or dollar signs floating in the sky.
No. The ACC added Louisville for one reason, and one reason only: football.
It was a no-brainer for both sides.
The ACC needs a boost to its football brand, and it needs to keep football powers Florida State and Clemson happy. This week, folks got the idea that the ACC was on the verge of collapse with speculation circulating that North Carolina and Virginia would follow Maryland out the door.
Speculation grew so intense, in fact, that both North Carolina and Virginia released statements vowing their undying commitment and everlasting love to the ACC (dated: Nov. 27, 2012). Another concern loomed, too: potentially losing Florida State and Clemson, ACC football cornerstones. Remember the chatter this summer about potential interest in the Big 12? Remember Florida State voted against the $50 million buyout?
Louisville's football program has had a renaissance under coach Charlie Strong, who led the Cardinals to as high as No. 9 in the BCS standings this season.
Yes, the ACC had to keep these two schools happy, and keeping these two schools happy meant putting football first. Nearly every single move done during realignment has been made with an eye toward increasing league footprints into bigger television markets.
Not this one.
The ACC gladly trades in a Top 10 TV market in Washington, D.C., for Louisville -- ranked somewhere around No. 50. Academics? For this proud conference, they were an afterthought. Louisville ranks No. 160 in the latest U.S. News & World Report college and university rankings. For once, on-the-field product came first. That is the overriding reason the Cardinals got the nod over UConn, believed to be the favorite headed into this process.
UConn brings a terrific basketball product, but several factors surely worked against the Huskies. There is an academics scandal that has hung over the men's basketball program. And football has slipped the past two seasons. The Huskies are on the verge of not making a bowl game in consecutive years -- after going to the BCS in 2010.
Louisville, meanwhile, is on the rise -- reaching as high as No. 9 in the BCS standings this season following a 9-0 start to the season. The Cardinals play Rutgers on Thursday night for a shot at their second BCS berth since 2006.
Coach Charlie Strong is one of the hottest rising coaches in the country. Moving from the down-in-the-doldrums Big East to the ACC should help guard against a potential move to a bigger school. Strong has been very clear about his commitment to Louisville. Joining what appears to be a more stable conference -- at least today, anyway -- only increases his chances of staying.
The bottom line is Louisville has made a huge commitment not just to football but to its overall athletics department. It has the biggest athletics budget in the Big East, and is about to make major improvements to its football facility. Athletic director Tom Jurich has made no bones about one fact -- money is not really an issue for him when it comes to building and sustaining his department.
For good measure, of course, Louisville is a basketball power, too. Forbes reports the Louisville basketball program is the NCAA's most valuable basketball team, unseating North Carolina. The additions of Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame make the ACC the hands down No. 1 basketball conference in America.
It also has brought the Big East to its knees. The ACC has now taken six former Big East members, leaving the Big East to die a slow death. Louisville is the absolute back-breaker. Last year, the Cardinals tried desperately to escape, losing a down-to-the-wire battle with West Virginia to get into the Big 12.
The Big East thought it would have the Cardinals to build their future around, as the top overall athletic department remaining in the Big East. But when Jurich saw the ACC opening, he went for it, realizing he had a second chance at escape. Now UConn, Cincinnati, Temple and USF are the lone remaining Big East members that began the football season back in September, left to wonder whether they will get escape opportunties of their own.
As for the ACC, there will be those who wonder whether this addition does anything to keep another school from bolting, should another (ahem, richer) league come calling (again). There are no guarantees in the hard-to-fathom world of conference realignment.
But there is one certainty today: Adding Louisville was the best possible move the ACC could make today.