Louisville 'honored' to join ACC

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 29, 2012 

The ACC has found a replacement for the University of Maryland – and in a predictable place.

The ACC announced Wednesday that the University of Louisville had accepted an invitation to join the league. Louisville will leave the Big East Conference, which continues to spit out members to the ACC.

Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, recently said it would bolt for the Big Ten in 2014. The surprising decision created uneasiness within the ACC about other possible defections – Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said the league was “vulnerable” – but the ACC moved quickly to fill Maryland’s void.

“When you look at Louisville you see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointing up, a tremendous uptick,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said Wednesday.

The decision to add Louisville – likely in 2014 – received the unanimous support of the ACC’s Council of Presidents. And while Swofford spoke of the ACC’s commitment academics and athletics, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said it was Louisville’s athletic success that was compelling given the fluid state of college sports and conference realignment.

“All of the presidents discussed it (and) I think what we felt what the ACC needed the most was to add the most exciting sports program that we could,” Thorp, the council chair, said during a Wednesday teleconference. “That is the way to ensure the success of the ACC, and sports was successful enough to allow us to keep our group together, and we talked about that extensively.

“You have to balance the two things. You have a collection of institutions you want to have in a conference and that collection of schools has to be a group that everybody wants to be part of, but it also has to succeed in athletics in order to make the conference viable. We balanced those two things and we just felt adding Louisville was the best way to do that.”

The Cardinals are 9-2 in football this season and can win the Big East title by beating Rutgers on Thursday night. Louisville’s men’s basketball team, coached by Rick Pitino, went to the Final Four last season and is currently ranked fifth nationally. The Louisville television market has been the highest-rated in the country for college basketball each of the past 10 years.

Louisville will have the largest athletic budget in the ACC, according to the 2011-2012 report from the Office of Postsecondary Education’s Equity in Athletics. The Cardinals’ budget was $84.4 million, $3 million more than Florida State.

Thorp noted Louisville president James Ramsey, a former vice chancellor at UNC, was a leader in higher education and had the university on an “upward trajectory.”

“So I think we feel very good about the addition of Louisville in every respect,” Thorp said. “But the logic was we wanted to make the ACC as exciting a sports conference as we could, and we felt Louisville unambiguously did that for us the best.”

Swofford said he anticipates Louisville would replace Maryland in the ACC’s Atlantic Division for football and adopt the Terrapins’ conference scheduling in all other sports.

“I can assure everyone that the leadership of our conference made a tremendous decision with this invitation,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Louisville, which has outstanding leadership in administration and among its coaching staff, is a significant addition to the ACC.”

Louisville becomes the seventh Big East school to leave for the ACC. Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami joined the ACC in the initial round of ACC expansion. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will become ACC members next year and Notre Dame will join the ACC for all sports but football in 2014.

Pitt and Syracuse each paid a $7.5 million exit fee to leave the Big East early, and Louisville is expected to try and negotiate the same fee.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich called the Big East a “wonderful home.”

“But when it began to deteriorate we felt that all our options were pulled away from us and we were forced to look,” he said. “It was very difficult for us to see a very once-proud conference in a very difficult position.”

Talk about expansion irony: Louisville and Rutgers will decide the Big East football title and both soon will be gone. Rutgers, like Maryland, will join the Big Ten in 2014.

During the teleconference, Swofford was asked if he was concerned about other ACC schools looking to leave the conference.

“I do not envision that at all,” he said. “In fact, just the opposite, based on the conversations among the council of presidents over the last 10 days.”

Swofford also said the ACC was “very, very comfortable” remaining at 14 schools.

Ramsey served as vice chancellor for finance and administration at UNC and was on the UNC faculty. He said Louisville’s academic profile made it a good fit for the ACC, saying, “UNC-Chapel Hill is one of what we call our aspirational peers, so we’re really following the Chapel Hill model and focus on recruiting the very best students and giving them the best opportunity to be successful and graduate.”

Ramsey said Louisville alumni and supporters were elated by the move.

Michael Scholtz is a Louisville native who holds two degrees from the University of Louisville. He also spent two undergraduate years at N.C. State, experiencing ACC sports.

“I think everyone is thrilled by this move to the ACC,” said Scholtz, director of community dental practices and an associate professor in East Carolina’s dental school. “If you look at the Big East and the championships Louisville won, I think we will compete very well in the ACC. We’ve been a Top 20 team in football off and on, and with two national championships in basketball we will have no problem there.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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