Louisville’s Move to the ACC: The Debate Continues

 

A week ago, the University of Louisville was invited to join the ACC in 2014. This was just the beginning of a long discussion about whether the Cardinals were worthy of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We were definitely the underdogs,” said Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich. “People had UConn not penciled in, but penned in.”

University of Louisville President James Ramsey emphasized, in an interview with USA Today, that ACC representatives never relayed concerns about Louisville’s academic profile or television audience.

“What we felt,” North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp said, “was that what the ACC needed most was to add the most exciting sports program we could.”

Since 2000 the Cardinals’ football team has a record of 107-55 with six Big East conference championships. Louisville has won just four of its nine bowl games since 2000, but the school won its only BCS game in 2006 versus Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. After watching the lack of quality in the ACC this year on the football field, there’s no doubt Louisville will be able to have success against the conference’s best schools such as Clemson, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

The addition of another elite basketball program will also be a tremendous boost to theACC, which should welcome two annual Final Four contenders in Syracuse and Louisville in the near future. Rick Pitino is one of the top college basketball coaches of his era. In 11 seasons in Louisville, his squad has made the NCAA Tournament eight times, including a Final Four run last season. Pitino has done well competing with other top schools in the area, including rival Kentucky, both on the court and in recruiting.

The success that his program has achieved in a very competitive Big East conference has been impressive, and the team is off to another good start this season with a No. 5 ranking.

Over the last six years, Louisville is the nation’s only school that has reached both the men’s and women’s basketball Final Four, a BCS bowl game, the College World Series and the Men’s Soccer College Cup.

There was an outcry of people, however, who were especially upset that Louisville was given an invitation instead of UConn.

“We’re still in the cities you want to be in,” said Jim Calhoun, head coach of the UConn men’s basketball team. UConn sits in one of the major basketball recruiting areas in the country, pulling players from the Northeast and upper Midwest. “I still believe if you look from a purely basketball perspective, we still have three of the four Final Four teams that were here when I came into the league [in 1985] in St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown. And we added [the other], Memphis.”

UConn, however, isn’t nearly as valuable as Louisville. According to Forbes.com, in March of 2012, the Louisville Cardinals unseated North Carolina as the NCAA’s most valuable basketball team, with a total value of $36.1 million. Louisville’s value is helped by ticket sales of $1.4 million and an additional $1 million from the sales of concessions, parking and programs. But the major driver behind Louisville’s financial success is contributions to the basketball team, which hit $20 million last year. Only five other teams were able to generate $20 million in total revenue, let alone from a single source.

Despite Louisville’s money and athletic profile, there was some question whether academics would keep Louisville out of the ACC picture.

Cliff Potter, a writer for “Keeping it Heel” (a North Carolina Tar Heels blog under the Sports Illustrated banner), had this to say about Louisville’s academic record:

Louisville fits none of the criteria that have made the ACC what it has been since it was first formed in the 1950s. This university is ranked 160th among all colleges in the latest US News & World Report national university rankings. Louisville graduates only 22% of its undergraduate classes within four years. UNC graduates 77% of its students in the same amount of time.

Indeed, Louisville has none of the criteria formerly thought to be required of any ACC school. It is not an elite academic university. It does not in a state that borders the Atlantic Ocean. And it does not have the type of robust research facilities and background the other members have.

However, Cliff Potter fails to recognize the progress that Louisville has made over the past several years. Academically, U of L boasts a College of Business that is ranked among the top 7 percent in the nation, a dental school ranked in the top 10 regularly according to board scores, and a College of Engineering which is the only ACC school to offer ABET accreditation in both B.S. and M.S. degrees.

Regardless of what the pundits say, Louisville will join the ACC in 2014, whether they like it or not.

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