Conference realignment continues, Cards still on outside looking - News, Weather & Sports

Conference realignment continues, Cards still on outside looking in

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Officials from the University of Maryland announced on Monday that the school will leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten, effective July 1, 2014. Maryland could potentially have to pay a $50 million exit fee to the league.

It is the latest round in conference expansion that has seen schools bolt from traditional rivals in search of money.

Tuesday, Rutgers will reportedly join Maryland in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights would be the 6th school to leave the Big East in the last year, joining Syracuse (ACC), Pittsburgh (ACC), West Virginia (Big XII), Texas Christian (Big XII) and Notre Dame (ACC). The Fighting Irish announced in September plans to take all sports but football and hockey from the Big East to the ACC. The exact timing of their departure has not been negotiated.

Where does this leave the University of Louisville? Various reports have the Cards in the conversation, along with Connecticut, to fill Maryland's spot in the ACC, but that was news to U of L head basketball coach Rick Pitino.

"For us at the University of Louisville, and I'm going to separate myself because I've been around a lot different places and I've experienced a lot of things at my age. I haven't come across a school like this in a long time that has so much to offer and such little interest by people," Pitino said. "When I hear this,  I think this school, now I want to preface this by saying this, I want to stay, me, myself and I, I want to coach in the Big East forever, that's me, I don't want to coach anyplace other than the Big East, to me that is the most enjoyable thing for my agenda. We obviously know this is not about me, it's about football and money. That being said, the University of Louisville is, the SEC should be after them, the ACC should be after them, the Big Ten should be after them, the Big East."

U of L football head coach Charlie Strong said he has faith in the schools administration. "I just know this, our AD and our President are going to put us in the best position, so with those teams leaving, hopefully we can continue to keep this conference together and whomever leaves, someone else will come in, but it's all about us and these next two games more than anything," Strong said.

His 9-1 football team, currently ranked #20 in the Bowl Championship Series standings hosts Connecticut Saturday, before travelling to #18 Rutgers on November 29. With two wins, the Cards will clinch just the second BCS bid in school history.

Many U of L supporters point to the facility upgrades and overall success of the Cards sports programs when arguing for the schools inclusion, but as evidenced by the choices of Maryland and Rutgers, it's not about programmatic success, so much as TV market. Maryland and Rutgers have both had financial difficulties in recent years and have cut sports. However, they deliver the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City markets to the Big Ten Network.

"We probably have top to bottom the best overall facilities in college athletics, now when I mention that to people, they turn around and say, no it's all about TV, TV, TV, yeah but everybody tunes in to sports here, if you turn on TV's in New York, they may not tune in to you," Pitino added.

Strong said he's also trying to figure out the process, "Well I guess what you have to look at is what are they looking for, and I have no idea what they're looking for, but we have a lot to offer."

U of L's academic profile has also been pointed out as a possible mark against the school, but a release from the school reveals that academic achievement is on the upswing.

The average ACT score of all entering freshmen has increased from 21.4 in 1998 to 25.0 in 2012. The 6-year graduation rate has increased from 30.1% in '98 to 52.0%.

The number of students living on campus has increased from 1,725 in '98 to 4,900 in 2012.

The number of endowed chairs and professorships has risen from 35 to 150, and the schools endowment has increased from $317 million dollars to $724.4 million dollars.

All things considered U of L is a much more attractive potential addition today, but it still may not be enough to rescue the Cards from a crumbling Big East.

"I don't think we have much of a choice, so it better be viable," Pitino said. "It's really a question for Tom Jurich to answer, but some of us don't have choices. Somewhere along the line all of those Catholic schools may just get tired of all this nonsense and say, listen, we've had enough of you football schools, we're just going to break up and we're going to form our own great basketball league. That's the danger of it all, that the Catholic schools don't get totally fed up with all this."

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