ACC presidents vote to add Louisville

In another phase of conference realignment, the ACC voted to add the Louisville Cardinals.

Nine days after Maryland announced it’s leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten, the ACC has replaced the Terrapins with the University of Louisville

The Big East school was voted in unanimously by the league’s presidents early Wednesday morning following a 7 a.m. conference call. Also up for possible inclusion were Cincinnati and Connecticut. Some reports suggest that South Florida and Navy were part of the discussions, too.   

Louisville will join the league in all sports starting in 2014.

"With its aggressive approach to excellence in every respect, the University of Louisville will enhance our league’s culture and commitment to the cornerstones we were founded on 60 years ago,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “The University of Louisville is an outstanding addition to the Atlantic Coast Conference and I commend the Council of Presidents for continuing to position our league for the long-term future. If you look at what has been done over the last 15 months, the ACC has only gotten stronger with the additions of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse.”

The ACC’s footprint changes by losing Maryland and bringing in Louisville. Virginia and Virginia Tech still give the ACC the Washington, DC, market, but the league might, in time, lose its 60-year psychological residence in the Baltimore area.

However, Louisville’s market ranking of 48 is ahead of Memphis, Jacksonville, Buffalo and New Orleans, and the Cardinals are the most important sports entity in its town, as opposed to competing for viewers with at least one major pro sports team. The Louisville area has 674,050 TV homes, and its metropolitan area spreads well into southern Indiana to the north. In addition, Louisville is just 87 miles from Cincinnati and 114 miles from Indianapolis.

Louisville gives the ACC an immediate upgrade over Maryland in football and men’s basketball. The Cardinals are 9-2 in football. The Cardinals basketball team dropped to No. 5 this week after losing to Duke in a tournament in the Bahamas over the weekend.

The Cardinals have a rabid fan base for basketball, as they regularly fill the 2-year-old, 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center, and last season Louisville basketball passed North Carolina as the highest grossing program in the nation with $36.1 million. Its football home, Papa John’s Stadium, has 58,000 seats after a recent expansion, and with a significant step up in competition and relevance for the program, fan demand could cause another upgrade in the near the future. 

Louisville has a brand from its basketball success (two national championships and nine Final Fours) and has an intense and growing fan base larger than several current ACC schools. Its facilities will immediately rank among the best in the conference.

“When it became apparent to us that we needed to make a move, the ACC is the perfect fit for us and we are so elated to be joining this prestigious conference,” said Tom Jurich, Vice President and Director of Athletics. "What I really like about this move is it’s terrific for our fans, with the proximity of the institutions and we never have to leave the Eastern time zone.  This is a credit to everyone at the University of Louisville and our community, as we have all pulled together to position ourselves for this opportunity."

When compared to Maryland, Louisville comes out on top, as well.

In the past decade, Louisville has had six winning seasons in football, been to six bowls, including an Orange Bowl and Gator Bowl, and has finished ranked No. 6 twice and No. 19 another time in the final Associated Press rankings. 

Maryland has had six losing marks and has been to only four bowls while finishing ranked only once (No. 23 in 2010) in that span.

In the past three seasons, since Papa John’s Stadium was expanded, Louisville has averaged 11,000 more fans per home football game than Maryland.

In basketball, where Maryland’s departure will be felt most in the ACC, Louisville has a decided edge historically and recently. In the past 10 years, since Maryland won the national championship in 2002, Louisville is 16-9 in NCAA tournament play, with two final Four appearances. Maryland is 6-5 and has failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament. 

In all, Louisville has played in 38 NCAA tournaments, having racked up 64 wins, nine Final Fours and two national championships. Maryland has been to 24 NCAA tournaments, notching 38 wins, reaching two Final Fours and the one title in the process.

Louisville fits the mold of what should be the new ACC. The league has dropped in performance in the two major sports in recent years, but with Louisville’s mindset of growth and upward mobility, perhaps the rest of the conference will take a cue from the Kentucky school. 

Louisville’s athletic budget of just under $69 million is larger than every ACC school with the exception of North Carolina. 

It has become quite competitive in other sports, too. Its women’s basketball program has flourished in recent years, including achieving a spot in the Final Four in 2009, and its baseball team is a regular in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the College World Series in 2007.

As excellent as Louisville’s basketball program has been, this vote was about football. The Cardinals’ program has made strides and proven during the past 15 years it can win with different coaches, so it’s sustainable. And now that it is part of the ACC, it can grow even more. 

This move is a positive sign for the schools concerned the ACC is too academically oriented to become more of a national player in football. The presidents pushed aside a long-standing “rule” that it wouldn’t take partial qualifiers by admitting Notre Dame in that fashion in September, and now it will welcome a school rated No. 160 by U.S. News & World Report.

Wednesday’s move is a monumental step in the right direction for the ACC. Its tree has been shaken, and some of the old-line thinking that was beginning to anchor this conference down fell to the ground.