Most of you have heard that the Big 12 conference has begun research into expanding from 10 teams to possibly 12 or 14. Pretty soon there will just be the power 5 conferences and then everybody else. What if Louisville was one of those left out of the power 5? Where would we be and what would happen to our academic and athletic programs? I don’t really want to think about that and thanks to Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater, I don’t have to.
It all started back in July of 2003 when Miami announced that it would be leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. Shortly after that the ACC snatched Virginia Tech and Boston College from the Big East. Louisville jumped from Conference USA to one of the open Big East spots in 2005. At the time it seemed that Louisville had found the perfect home. The basketball conference was far and away the best conference and it positioned Louisville to make a run at a final four every year. But only the people inside the state of Kentucky truly care about basketball. It’s football that rules the college athletic world. Football is the real money maker and money is truly what it’s all about to the folks running the show. So realignment continued in the interest of football. Football powerhouse Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big 10 in 2011. Colorado left to join the Pac-10. Texas A&M and Missouri joined the South Eastern Conference. The big move that almost cost the University of Louisville was when in October of 2011, the Big 12 asked TCU and West Virginia to join their conference instead of Louisville, who had been lobbying hard to get an invite. Louisville knew that if they didn’t get into the Big 12 they could be stuck in a conference that was falling apart (Big East). It appeared that after the Big 12 added those 2 school, the power 5 conferences would be set and movement would stop. If you were on the outside you were pretty much irrelevant. As Louisville fans we were ready to face the fact that after nearly making the national championship game in 2006, we were destined to be the best of the rest. The future of Louisville football and athletics seemed as if we were going to be outsiders despite the fact that Charlie Strong had resurrected the program from the ashes of the Kragthorpe era. Then in a twist of fate, the Big 10 invited Maryland to join their conference in November of 2012. When Maryland accepted, it left a spot open in the ACC. Louisville wasted no time in making sure the ACC knew what they had to offer as a new conference member. It appeared that Connecticut would be the most likely school to fill the opening due to television markets but ultimately it was Louisville who received the invite and found their forever home.
I believe that if it were not for Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville would not have been invited to the ACC and we would currently be in the shoes of Connecticut, just praying for an invite from the Big 12.
I know you are saying , Tom Jurich is the one responsible. You would be partially correct. Tom Jurich is the absolute man and there will NEVER be another AD like him. He will have a statue on campus someday. He lobbied very hard and apparently made a good enough case to get Louisville the invite to the ACC. We will be forever grateful for his efforts but if Jurich went to John Swofford (the ACC commissioner) and said my football coach, Steve Krapthorpe, is on the verge of getting us into the Sugar Bowl even though we have a 15-21 record over the last 3 seasons, we would not have gotten the invite and Swofford would still be laughing. Instead Jurich said, I have a coach in Charlie Strong who just got our football team ranked in the top 10. We are very likely to play in a BCS bowl game this year and I have a young quarterback who is likely to be drafted very high when he is done playing college football. Also, he will be a senior and possibly a Heisman finalist in our first year in your conference. Not to mention he is a very smart kid who is on pace to graduate in three years. My coach also has all his players hitting the books hard. I know the previous coach let our APR drop and we lost three scholarships but Charlie has improved our APR every year. From a 896 in 2009-2010 to a 971 in 2011-2012 (Per Adam Himmelsbach, courier-journal.com). Charlie has graduated 93 of his 98 players.
Ultimately Swofford listened to Jurich and Swofford told ESPN, “When you look at Louisville, you see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointed up — a tremendous uptick there, tremendous energy. It’s always an overall fit in every respect and I think that’s what we found.”
I know Charlie and Teddy were only a part of the reason why Louisville was saved from being left out in the cold from the conference shuffle but the timing was perfect. Would the ACC have looked twice at Louisville in 2004? “Probably not,” Swofford said. “I think that’s fair to say. It was a very different world at that time, too. But they have positioned themselves to be a tremendous addition to any conference, and we’re thrilled that they’re joining ours.” Imagine if Louisville had the opportunity to join when Ron Cooper was coach. Where would we be now?
Many things played a factor in the final decision to invite Louisville into the ACC. I’m quite sure the dedication to improved academic standards, the vast health research departments, coaches like Rick Pitino, Jeff Walz, Dan McDonnell, Ken Lolla, Sandy Pearsall, Todd Sharp and Anne Kordes (just to name a few) didn’t hurt either. Others like Howard Schnellenberger and Denny Crum helped pave the way and all the good things that president Ramsey contributed were also a big factor. But timing is everything and when it was time, Charlie and Teddy were the biggest reasons Louisville is a member of the ACC thus saving Louisville.
** On a personal side note, I hope that when the Big 12 adds teams they leave out UConn. Yes, I am still bitter because of this,
As always, GO CARDS!