ACC chooses 'exciting' U of L sports, what about academics?


by Joe Arnold

Posted on November 28, 2012 at 8:19 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 29 at 12:16 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- The University of Louisville's 15 years of investments in its athletic program and facilities paid off on Wednesday when the Atlantic Coast Conference accepted the university as its 14th member, a replacement for the University of Maryland which announced its departure for the Big 10 two weeks ago.

Louisville's exit from the Big East conference requires 27 months notice and a $10 million fee.  The timing and amount of the fee may change depending on how soon Louisville begins ACC play.

U of L will immediately become the ACC's most valuable member, financially, but its weakest member, academically according to a national rating of U.S. universities.

The Cardinals' nearly $89 million in athletic revenue last school year is more than any ACC school.  Florida State is next at 81 million dollars.

"We'll walk into this league being the number one or number two budget in our conference," said Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich at an afternoon news conference.

In July, the ACC's 15-year, $3.6 billion contract with ESPN began. It pays ACC members $17 million per school year. 

In March, Forbes Magazine ranked Louisville the NCAA's most valuable basketball team.  Meanwhile, the school's burgeoning football program is regarded as a key encouragement for Florida State and Clemson University to remain in the ACC rather than seek a stronger football conference.

"The University of Louisville will be a terrific member of the Atlantic Coast Conference," said University of North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp, chair of the ACC Council of Presidents. "We welcome them as full partners into the ACC."

Thorp made clear that the ACC's decision to extend an invitation to Louisville rather than to the University of Connecticut hinged on U of L's athletic prowess and not its academic profile.

In U.S. News and World Report's rankings, the lowest ACC school on the list is North Carolina State at 106.  Louisville is ranked 160.  President James Ramsey said the ACC expressed no concerns about Louisville's academic worthiness, a subject he regarded as a creation of the media.

"Our freshman class keeps getting better and better, our six year graduation rate is going up," Ramsey told WHAS11, "The number of students we are graduating is going up.  Are we to that level yet where we can say we're a Duke or North Carolina?  No. Absolutely not.  But we're going to keep working."

"It's on an upward trajectory as he just said," Thorp said during a teleconference.  "So I think that we feel very good about the addition of Louisville in every respect but our logic was that we wanted to make the ACC as exciting a sports conference as we possibly could and we felt that Louisville unambiguously did that."

Boosters say the ACC move is a game changer for Louisville.  On his Twitter feed Wednesday morning, political commentator Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, a Louisville Law School graduate, suggested that the development also improves U of L's status within the Bluegrass State.

"#UofL no longer little brother to #UK in any sense," Fineman tweeted.  "in better academic company, in fact."

The ACC also brings marquee opponents in both basketball and football.

The conference's hoops powers include Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.

"We'll just keep filling up the Yum Center," Jurich smiled.

In football, Clemson and Florida State will be on the Cardinals schedule every year, and Notre Dame has also agreed to a limited football affiliation that could bring the Fighting Irish to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Yet it's the non-revenue sports -- the transformation of Louisville's campus under athletic director Tom Jurich -- that also speaks to U of L's sports commitment.  Improvements to sports such as men's and women's soccer, baseball, lacrosse, field hockey and other sports helped tip the scales.

"From a facilities standpoint, we fit with anybody in the country," Jurich said.

Louisville's move to the ACC comes amidst major upheavals in conferences, including the Big East which has experienced too many other defections for Louisville not to seek an alternative, Jurich said. 

Given the ongoing conference shake-ups, WHAS11 asked Jurich if he was confident in Louisville's future in the ACC.

"I hope, for perpetuity, this is where we land," Jurich said.