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ACC adds Louisville after losing Maryland to Big Ten

Less than two weeks after losing a member for the first time in 41 years, the ACC has added the University of Louisville.

League presidents approved the Cardinals during a conference call Wednesday morning.

“With its aggressive approach to excellence in every respect, the University of Louisville will enhance our league’s culture and commitment to the cornerstones we were founded on 60 years ago,” commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “The University of Louisville is an outstanding addition to the Atlantic Coast Conference and I commend the Council of Presidents for continuing to position our league for the long-term future. If you look at what has been done over the last 15 months, the ACC has only gotten stronger with the additions of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse.”

Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich, among the nation's best, also issued a statement.

“When it became apparent to us that we needed to make a move, the ACC is the perfect fit for us and we are so elated to be joining this prestigious conference,” he said. “Under John Swofford’s leadership, the ACC continues to prosper.  We sincerely appreciate this opportunity.  This will open so many more doors for us both athletically for all of our sports programs, and academically for our university.

"What I really like about this move is it’s terrific for our fans, with the proximity of the institutions and we never have to leave the Eastern time zone.  This is a credit to everyone at the University of Louisville and our community, as we have all pulled together to position ourselves for this opportunity.  It’s amazing what has happened here over the last 15 years.  We appreciate so much what the Big East Conference has meant to us.”

Charter member Maryland blindsided its ACC brethren last week by announcing its impending move to the Big Ten and its purported television riches. The Terps will be the first to exit the league since South Carolina in 1971.

Louisville does not match Maryland’s Washington-Baltimore TV market but boasts a broad-based, well-financed athletics program.

Here’s a description of the Cardinals from a post last week:

Louisville offers national-championship pedigree in basketball – Rick Pitino coached the Cardinals back to the Final Four last season -- and has finished no lower than 41st in the Directors’ Cup all-sports standings each of the last five years. The Cardinals have rabid support and cutting-edge facilities.

Football? Bobby Petrino coached Louisville to top-10 seasons in 2004 and ’06, and Charlie Strong has the Cardinals 9-1 and ranked 19th entering Saturday's game against UConn [Louisville lost in OT]. The only ACC teams that have finished among the Associated Press top 10 in the last decade were Virginia Tech’s in 2004, ’05, ’07 and ’09.

Louisville also would solidify the ACC’s southern flank and bring the conference fiscal strength. The Cardinals reported $87.8 million in 2011-12 athletics revenue to the U.S. Department of Education, more than any ACC school – Florida State reported $81.4 million – and cleared $3.5 million in profit.

The issue with Louisville is academics. The ACC often boasts of its U.S. News rankings, and at No. 160, Louisville is far below No. 106 North Carolina State, the ACC’s lowest-rated school.

The Cardinals’ latest Graduation Success Rate for athletes is a solid 80 percent but lags behind all but three of the 12 current ACC members: Georgia Tech (76), N.C. State (77) and Florida State (78). The NCAA docked Louisville’s football program three scholarships last year for sub-par Academic Progress Rates.

Louisville president James Ramsey has some ACC connections. He worked at North Carolina as the vice chancellor for finance and administration, and as an adjunct professor in UNC’s master’s of public administration program.

“We think we’re on the right trajectory academically,” Ramsey said Saturday night during an interview on Louisville’s radio network prior to the Cardinals’ game against Duke.

With Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining the ACC in 2013, the Cardinals keep the ACC at 14 football members, with Notre Dame a 15th in other sports.

Louisville becomes the seventh school to leave the Big East for the ACC since 2003-04, joining Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame.

Still to be debated: whether to place Louisville in the Atlantic Division to replace Maryland or restructure the divisions.

Also on tap for the ACC is a possible cable channel in partnership with ESPN. Here's what Swofford told me about the subject last month:

“It may well make sense at some point," he said. "That’s part of what I mean about how well-positioned this conference is for the future: when you look at the number of eyeballs that our now in our footprint once we’re able to evolve as 15-member conference. We’re ramping up our discussions (with ESPN) on that. …

“In essence we have our own network through our (Raycom syndication) partnership. … Sometimes the optics of saying you have a channel are better than the reality of what it really means. … You do it for the right reasons, to bring more and better exposure for your programs in a way that makes sense financially.

“Sometimes people neglect to look at the cost of doing something. The ACC/Raycom digital deal. It required absolutely no investment on the part of the ACC, and yet we’re 50-50 partner in the revenues as they begin to generate. That’s a pretty good business deal.”

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