Martin: We didn't think it would ever actually happen, but it did. Louisville is joining the ACC. I know you were sweating and struggling with how things were going to shake out, but walk us through how this all came to be from the Louisville perspective.
Mark: For Louisville folks, it really looked like conference realignment was done for a while. Having missed out on the Big 12 last year, and the ACC having rejected West Virginia last year as well, it was initially viewed as something of a lost cause from the outset. But the longer things went without the ACC making a decision, the better it looked like Louisville's chances were.
I think people were pretty skeptical it would be Louisville until about four days ago when it was reported that UConn and Louisville were the main two candidates. Then it was just 50/50 in people's minds. At that point, you knew Tom Jurich would be the best salesman he could be and you hoped it would be enough.
Martin: Obviously you have a bit of bias in the matter, but the UConn vs. Louisville argument didn't even seem close to me. I never saw UConn as a viable member of the ACC. They're trending downward in both sports somewhat. They're not geographically close to any ACC school except Boston College. The lifestyle and culture doesn't really fit in with a majority of the ACC. I know academics got mentioned a lot, but what was the case for UConn and what made UL the right choice for the ACC?
Mark: The case for UConn was for the ACC to use the same thought processes it has always used in expansion. Or, even better, to just use the same thought process that the ACC used last year when it invited Syracuse and Pittsburgh: A great academic school that plays quality basketball, has adequate football, and is in a large television market. If they'd used the same criteria, then UConn was the obvious choice.
What I think was different this time was that the ACC wasn't expanding from a position of need. They didn't need someone to add value to a potential TV deal because it's done. They, instead, got to choose based mostly on sports themselves and potential. I think everyone would agree the ceiling for Louisville, especially in football, is higher than it is for UConn.
Martin: So in a matter of speaking, what you're saying is the ACC was aggressive. By adding Louisville, it meant someone else didn't get to. Much like taking on Notre Dame as a partial member. It was on the table for the ACC, and if the ACC didn't do it, someone else would. But when we start thinking about it that way, it just ends up looking like conference realignment is just one big game of Monopoly and now everyone is arguing over the orange and blue spaces. Who'd have thought St. James place was so important?
Mark: It's unthinkable, given Louisville's past, that it would be such an important piece in any puzzle like this, or that it could be seen as strategically valuable. But it's a testament to the athletic department leadership and the support of fans that we're at this point. It was gratifying to me that John Swoffrd specifically said the ACC wanted the most exciting athletic department. That's something fans locally had hoped would eventually be acknowledged.
Martin: But perhaps Louisville was just a well-kept secret. The athletic department is making money, has great facilities, dynamic head coaches and is in a pretty up-and-coming market. I know there are plenty of old-school ACC fans who are upset about academics (which is a red herring in the first place, as Louisville has done a lot to improve its academic standing in recent years), but when I look at it from another lens, this is a pragmatic move that not only adds an exciting member, but helps with the stability and long-term viability of the conference.
Speaking of, how do you see this affecting the ACC as a whole, and what are the next dominoes to fall in the conference realignment picture?
Mark: Well, I hope that realignment is mostly done. I have just never believed that 16 team super-conferences are inevitable, so I hope that everyone gets comfortable with their leagues as they are and we can enjoy a period of stasis. I think if the ACC aggressively explores the option of forming its own network with ESPN, then it will have a chance to stay competitive with the other conferences and keep its high profile members like Florida State and Clemson.
Louisville has done a lot pretty much on its own. I'm hopeful that with a bigger stage and even more resources, Louisville will be an asset to the ACC from the outset. Jurich has always used Virginia Tech as the football model and I don't see any reason Louisville can't aspire to be that kind of member in football going forward. A perennially ranked team that sometimes contends for a title. The other sports should be just fine.
Martin: So what should ACC fans know about Louisville? And how would the Cards like to be welcomed into the conference?
Mark: I think people should know that in adding Louisville you're adding a school that supports all of its athletic teams. The men's basketball team is consistently No. 2 in the nation in attendance. The women's team averages over 10,000 per game. Louisville's had success in just about everything lately. The baseball team went to a College World Series, the football team is now headed to its second BCS bowl, men's basketball has been to two Final Fours in the past seven years, the women's team went to the national championship game four years ago, and the men's soccer team lost in the title game of the College Cup two years ago.
It's a really well-rounded athletic department. As for a welcome? I'd like for Florida State to come back up for Round 2 of that crazy 2002 game that was played in the pouring rain.
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