Virginia has a scanty history with Louisville in athletics but that is about to change if ACC commissioner John Swofford’s statement holds true about the conference’s newest member.
Louisville will officially begin play as the ACC’s newest member in 2014, replacing Big Ten-bound Maryland as the conference’s 14th full member. Swofford said Wednesday that he anticipates Louisville becoming the primary crossover scheduling partner with UVa, which means the Cavaliers and Cardinals will be new rivals.
So, Virginia, meet Louisville. Louisville, meet Virginia. Should be a lot of fun. Here’s a few things you Wahoos should know about your newest rival.
From my informal Twitter poll I took among UVa fans on Wednesday, the move to add Louisville to the ACC and make the Cardinals the primary partner of the Cavaliers was met with divided opinions. Some liked the move; some hated it.
While even the ACC presidents noted Wednesday that the main reason they unanimously voted Louisville into the league was because it had the best and most solid athletic program of any other suitors, the U of L’s academic reputation didn’t sit well with at least a faction of ACC schools.
Louisville was ranked No. 160 in the latest U.S. News & World Report list, far below the lowest-ranked ACC school, N.C. State, at No. 106. However, U of L president James Ramsey said the Kentucky school is on the proper trajectory to improve its academic image.
In fact, Ramsey and Louisville felt it necessary to present these facts on Thursday to show that the school has made great progress academically since 1998.
Louisville, established in 1798, has 22,293 students, and has an operating budget of $1.21 billion, $177 million of which comes from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The U of L is the fourth-fastest growing research university in the nation and is considered one of the top Fulbright Awards universities in the country.
In fact, this year alone, eight Louisville students earned Fulbright awards, which ranked behind only Duke (14) and Johns Hopkins (10), and ahead of such schools as Wake Forest (7), Vanderbilt (7), Dartmouth (6) and M.I.T. (6). If Virginia was on that list, it had less.
But as we all know, and finally, even the ACC presidents admitted as such Wednesday, this expansion wasn’t about academics. It was about athletics and money and keeping the band together.
By adding Louisville, the ACC remains as one of the best if not the best basketball league in the country and boasts a football program better than several of the present ACC schools (the Cardinals played Rutgers last night for a spot in the BCS).
Who would want to play an ACC basketball schedule in a couple of years when you’ve got to deal with Duke and North Carolina, possibly a strong N.C. State program, not to mention Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and now Louisville, which made the Final Four last season and whose future looks bright?
“With a coach that has the credentials of Rick Pitino and a basketball program like Louisville’s, that has been so successful, it will be an incredible basketball league,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett chuckled nervously Thursday night. “We’ve already added some of the top teams with what we already had and now that you add Louisville …”
Bennett didn’t finish his thought. He didn’t have to.
“I guess my standard line is that we’ve got to lace ‘em up even tighter yet,” the UVa coach said. “Doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure.”
Consider that Louisville has been the highest-rated basketball television market in the nation for the past 10 years.
The Cardinals moved out of old Freedom Hall not long ago and moved into the $238 million KFC Yum! Center (I can’t wait to file a byline from there), which houses 22,000 raucous hoops fans.
“We sell out the Yum! Center every single night,” said U of L athletics director Tom Jurich. “We have 7,000 people on a waiting list, so it’s the premier building in the United States, whether it’s pro or college.”
The football team plays in the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, a $72 million renovated complex that seats 55,000. Charlie Strong, former defensive coordinator at Florida, has directed the Cardinals to a strong season this year.
Before we realized what a sleaze Bobby Petrino was, he guided Louisville to Top 10 finishes in 2004 and ’06, which is better than any ACC school has done over the past decade other than Virginia Tech, which had four Top 10 seasons between 2004 and 2009.
The ACC had to like the fact that its basketball network will extend deep into the Bluegrass state and at least penetrate Kentucky’s hoops kingdom. The Wildcats will have to at least notice what’s going on across the fence with Louisville playing in the same league as Duke, UNC, Syracuse and others, including Notre Dame, which isn’t that far away geographically speaking.
Louisville supports 23 varsity sports and has finished no lower than No. 41 in the annual Directors Cup standings for the past five years. The school also reported $87.8 million in athletic revenue last year, which is more than any ACC school, Florida State being the closest at $81.4.
So, if you’re thinking Virginia has been aligned with an athletic patsy primary partner, think again.
We get the feeling the Cardinals will quickly establish a new rivalry with Virginia even if the two schools are some seven to eight hours apart.
Like Bennett said, better lace ‘em up even tighter.