LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich just smiled while looking over the housewarming package the Atlantic Coast Conference had waiting for the Cardinals.
It confirmed his belief that his school made the right move.
There was the crystal-and-wood championship trophy the school aims to win, a backdrop featuring the Cardinal and league logos, and a black-and-white welcome plaque. After bouncing around in three other leagues over 19 years, Tuesday marked Louisville’s official entry into the ACC. The Cardinals are replacing Maryland after it joined the Big Ten along with Rutgers.
In a news conference that included ACC Commissioner John Swofford and Louisville President James Ramsey, Jurich said, “We’re not the biggest, we’re not the best, but we’re going to work our butts off to make you very, very proud.”
Jurich stressed Louisville’s long-term commitment to that end, and Swofford expressed confidence that this will be a permanent relationship.
The commissioner already believes the Cardinals’ presence bolsters the ACC’s strong resume’ including men’s basketball powerhouses North Carolina and Duke and defending BCS football champion Florida State.
“It’s more than fair to say from an historical and success standpoint, we are now the strongest collection of basketball programs that have ever been assembled,” Swofford said, “and we will have four of the five active Hall of Fame coaches on the sidelines this year.”
That list includes Cardinals men’s coach Rick Pitino, who was absent from the news conference. But he echoed Swofford’s belief in a statement that said “we’re very, very excited to be joining the ACC.”
Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino was also absent, but said in a release that “we are thrilled this day has finally arrived.”
Though Maryland’s departure for the Big Ten opened the door for Jurich to call Swofford and ask that Louisville be considered as a replacement, the commissioner said the school had been on its radar as a candidate for expansion. However, the sudden vacancy created an urgency in which the conference weighed Louisville’s academic and athletic qualities over 11 days.
Swofford said Louisville’s strengths in both areas made the decision obvious. The ACC’s invitation ended up sparking a remarkable run of success that’s been called “The Year of the Cardinal.”
Louisville’s football team won the Sugar Bowl. Both basketball teams reached the championship games with the men claiming the school’s third title. Baseball capped the year with the first of back-to-back College World Series berths.
Ramsey said the school’s “upward trajectory” will continue as it joins an elite conference, adding, “I can think of no greater home or neighborhood that we would like to be associated with and be part of than the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
From Jurich’s end, Tuesday culminated a long process that began with membership in Conference USA when he arrived in 1997 before he led them to the basketball-strong Big East in 2005. Louisville had sought to join the Big 12, which instead plucked West Virginia from that league.
Even after accepting the ACC invitation, the Cardinals stayed in the Big East through its makeover as the American Athletic Conference following the departure of Catholic member schools that took the name with them to an upstart league. Louisville’s programs have thrived at each stop and aim to be competitive right away in the ACC.
The Cardinals now get to reunite with some old Big East foes in Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, not to mention creating some new rivalries along Tobacco Road. Jurich expects Louisville fans to travel wherever the school plays and hopes that its nomadic existence has ended.
“We’ve been through four conferences in my 17 years, so hopefully this is the last one,” Jurich said. “I couldn’t be more happy for that.”