As the anger from traditionalists subsides about Maryland’s decision to leave 60 years of ACC affiliation for the Big Ten, the ACC must get to work finding a replacement.
This should be a quick and relatively painless process if the ACC handles this properly.
Not on the board is West Virginia, which moved to the Big 12 a year ago. The Big 12 owns the television rights for 13 years to any school that leaves. So nobody is leaving the Big 12.
On the board, however, are four schools the ACC must either cross out altogether or explore further: Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville.
UConn has a fine basketball tradition for men and women and gets some play in the New York City market, just like Syracuse, which joins the ACC next summer. But the Huskies have never proven they can win in hoops under more than one coach, recently-retired Jim Calhoun, and Huskies football barely measures on any radar.
Cross out UConn.
South Florida is intriguing in that it somewhat resembles Florida State 40 years ago. It is a large public school that is dramatically changing by expanding its campus and culture, and USF has flirted with some football relevance. But it’s struggling now, has virtually no basketball history, and its endowment and academic rating of No. 170 in U.S. News & World Report doesn’t help either. Add likely dissent from Miami and FSU and USF is a no go, too.
Cincinnati is an interesting option in that it gets the ACC into a football hotbed of high school talent, a big market, and it’s a school that has excelled in both major sports in recent years.
Cincinnati has potential but it might not be much greater than it’s already experienced and it’s uncertain how much an association could help enhance UC. It has a nice endowment, but its football stadium’s capacity of 35,000 seats is barely larger than Duke’s. The ACC doesn’t need any more of that.
Cross out Cincy.
That brings us to Louisville, which makes the most sense on numerous fronts. Its No. 160 U.S. News ranking isn’t going to thrill the academically minded ACC, but it has improved steadily in recent years. Plus, the ACC can help it climb that ladder quickly.
As for athletics, Louisville easily makes the most sense. Its basketball program, which is currently ranked No. 2, has been excellent in a few different eras under different coaches, proving it can sustain itself. Its football program has been mostly good to excellent over the last decade-plus under different coaches. It recovered very quickly from a recent swoon and is ranked in the top-20 this week.
Louisville has a brand from its basketball success and has a rabid fan base larger than several current ACC schools. It would add a bit more fanaticism to the conference, which is needed, and has facilities that rank among the best. Its football stadium has gone through recent major upgrades and seats a respectable 58,000 fans. That U of L sports is the top dog in its market, unlike the other likely contenders, can’t be overstated.
And, if you really want to get honest here, Louisville may bring more to the ACC than Maryland moving forward. Disregard Maryland’s 60-year association with the ACC and only look at football and basketball.
In the last decade, Louisville has had six winnings 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.
Maryland is experiencing its sixth losing campaign in that span, has been to just four bowls, the most notable being the Champs Sports Bowl, and finished ranked once, No. 23 in 2010.
In addition, Louisville has better support and will travel more fans to bowl games. In the last three seasons, including 2012, Louisville has averaged 50,004 fans per home game since Papa John’s Stadium was expanded. Maryland, which has also played 19 home games in that period, has averaged only 39,181 fans per contest.
Louisville has better facilities and more upside for improvement as a program, and plays in a town where it’s the top sports interest, not buried in the sports sections of Washington newspapers.
The Cardinals’ basketball program is similar with Maryland’s on many levels, but has achieved more recently and historically.
Since the NCAA Tournament is the measure of success these days, consider: since Maryland won the national title in 2002, Louisville is 16-9 in NCAA 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 with nine Final Fours and has claimed two national championships. Plus its home, the KFC Yum! Arena, seats a capacity of 22,000 and is usually full.
Maryland has been to 24 NCAA Tournaments, registering 38 victories with two Final Fours and a national title. The Comcast Center seats a capacity of 17,900.
Not long ago, the general belief was that the ACC wouldn’t let in any school as a partial member, but that’s what Notre Dame is. And certainly some factions of the league are voicing concerns over admitting a school rated as low academically as Louisville.
But times are changing, as Maryland showed Monday, and the ACC can’t let this one slip from its grip. Commissioner John Swofford better act fast, because the Big 12 is watching, and it knows Louisville would be a nice complement to West Virginia.
It would be an even better addition to the ACC. At this point, the league has no choice but to extend an offer right now. And as Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said Monday, the school would accept in a millisecond.