Louisville Cardinals Stuck in Conference Realignment Turmoil, Again

This week, Maryland and Rutgers bolted from the ACC and the Big East, respectively, to the Big Ten (or B1G, as they call it now).

Just like that, the appearance of a fragile peace among college athletics conferences shattered.

The re-arranging again jolted the University of Louisville — not that the last round of conference realignment ended ideally for the Cardinals, stuck in a Big East whose football membership spanned from San Diego to Annapolis.

So where does this leave UofL? Searching still, it seems.

In a recent blog post, WDRB’s Eric Crawford said UofL’s strengths — based in a city with the nation’s most intense basketball interest, for starters — aren’t what expanding major conferences are looking for. 

What might that be?

Here is Crawford’s WDRB colleague, Rick Bozich, who seems to be ticked off about this:

This is one of the best college sports towns in America. It’s the best college basketball town in the country. Louisville is one of the most ambitious college football programs in the nation. There are plenty of programs that would love to have all the assets Louisville has parked on South Floyd Street.

Doesn’t matter. Think about how absurd that sounds. But it doesn’t matter.

More specifically, it’s about television markets.

The ACC is interested in getting UConn — of the Big East — to fill Maryland’s spot, according to various news outlets. UofL has been mentioned, too, as have Central Florida and South Florida. Any of those would remove yet another spoke in the Big East’s already wobbly wheel — a problem for Louisville, should it not be called on.

(Meanwhile, the Big 12 is unlikely to expand to 12 teams, if that makes any sense.)

In a thorough blog post, Crawford outlines the reasons UofL is again in a perilous position. The Louisville television market? Not big enough compared to other schools in the Big East, the most poachable of conferences, apparently. The ACC may look at academic rankings — again, Louisville doesn’t fare as well as other schools.

The size of your market is 90 percent of your grade. It’s not everything — but it’s almost everything.

So when the ACC looks to add, I have to assume that market size will be a huge determining factor. But I can’t say it will way as heavily as it did with, say, the Big Ten. The ACC may have other factors to consider. But when you hear Connecticut spoken of as the leader, that’s the main reason why.

Crawford’s WDRB colleague, Rick Bozich, seems to be ticked off about this:

This is one of the best college sports towns in America. It’s the best college basketball town in the country. Louisville is one of the most ambitious college football programs in the nation. There are plenty of programs that would love to have all the assets Louisville has parked on South Floyd Street.

Doesn’t matter. Think about how absurd that sounds. But it doesn’t matter.

Without really naming Louisville, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde — like Crawford and Bozich (and, though not in sports, myself) an ex-Courier-Journal reporter — noted that Maryland and Rutgers aren’t deserving of a move to higher, stabler ground.

This week, the Associated Press ranks Louisville’s football team No. 19. The men’s basketball team is ranked No. 2. The women’s basketball team is ranked No. 7. 

The Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan reported on Rick Pitino’s touting of UofL’s football program — and on the coach’s apparent bewilderment at the realignment chaos.

Here’s Pitino, as quoted in The C-J: “I think it’s a hidden jewel (and) that people don’t realize we probably have, top-to-bottom, the best overall facilities in college athletics. I mention that to people and they say, ‘No, it’s all about TV.’ TV. TV. TV.”

And Sullivan made a solid point about how UofL must tread carefully, should one of those conferences that are reportedly overlooking the Cardinals start paying attention to what’s happening at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the KFC Yum! Center and elsewhere.

Though U of L would likely leap at the chance to join the ACC as it is currently constituted, the league’s appeal could be dramatically diminished by additional defections. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are all seen as potential acquisition targets.

By the time Tobacco Road gets repaved, it might be unrecognizable. Thus when U of L finally gets its chance to jump, it should take a hard look at where it might land.

This latest bout of conference realignment could end in many ways, bad news for people who want to keep the drama on the field and court. This seems clear: Any guesses on how this ends for UofL are as good as Final Four picks in November.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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