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November 28, 2012

ACC adds Louisville





An intense lobbying effort has helped land Louisville a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Yahoo! Sports has learned.

The latest Big East evacuee was chosen as the 14th member of the ACC Wednesday after a vote by the league's school presidents, multiple sources said. Louisville will replace Maryland, a founding ACC member which abruptly left for the Big Ten last week along with Rutgers of the Big East.

When Maryland's spot in the league came open, several Big East members made clear their interest in moving to the ACC. Sources said Louisville outmaneuvered the perceived early favorite, Connecticut, in large part because of the school's overall athletic commitment, the health of its football program and the issues Jim Calhoun left behind in the Huskies' basketball program. Cincinnati also made a spirited 11th-hour push, sources said.

According to a Sports Business Journal story in 2011, Louisville's total athletic budget of $68.8 million was bigger than every public school in the ACC but North Carolina's ($72.2 million). UConn's budget was reported as $64 million by Sports Business Journal. Cincinnati's budget figures were not available.

Louisville football is bowl-bound for the third straight season under coach Charlie Strong and started this season 9-0. The sophomore-laden Cardinals will play Rutgers Thursday night with a BCS bowl berth on the line. Louisville also is the only current Big East school to have won a BCS bowl, beating Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

UConn, meanwhile, is 10-13 in two seasons under Paul Pasqualoni. The program has backslid since Randy Edsall left after taking the Huskies to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.

UConn's postseason basketball ban for academic failings and current NCAA probation for rules violations under Jim Calhoun also weighed against the Huskies. Calhoun retired this fall and has been replaced by former assistant Kevin Ollie.

Beyond football, Louisville sold its well-rounded athletic program to the ACC. The Cardinals went to the men's Final Four last year and are currently ranked fifth in the nation, while annually running the nation's most profitable basketball program. The women's basketball program advanced to the 2009 Final Four and currently is ranked seventh. And the baseball program made the 2007 College World Series and has been a regular NCAA tournament participant in recent years.

After being outflanked last year for a spot in the Big 12 by West Virginia, Louisville was prepared to pounce when this opening presented itself. The biggest stumbling block the school had to overcome with the academically prestigious ACC was its modest institutional standing - Louisville is 160th in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of American universities, far below most of the league's schools. (Five rank in the U.S. News top 30: Duke, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Virginia and North Carolina.)

But multiple sources said and the conference is comfortable with Louisville because the ACC is too strong academically to have its reputation significantly altered by one new member. Louisville's recent efforts to build its endowment and improve its overall academic profile were noted as well.

Cincinnati has a similar profile to Louisville as an urban institution with modest academic credentials but solid programs in both football and men's basketball. But the Bearcats do not have the broad-based athletic success Louisville has enjoyed, nor can they match the Cardinals' attendance or profitability in basketball.

The ACC's overall stability has been questioned since Maryland's startling defection, with rumors percolating about Virginia and North Carolina being the Big Ten's next targets for expansion. But the athletic directors of both schools, Craig Littlepage of Virginia and Bubba Cunningham of North Carolina, issued statements Wednesday saying their schools are committed to the ACC.

Meanwhile, the ACC made clear that it intends to hold Maryland to more than $50 million in exit fees. The league filed suit against the school Wednesday, and commissioner John Swofford issued a statement on the matter: "We continue to extend our best wishes to the University of Maryland; however, there is the expectation that Maryland will fulfill its exit fee obligation. On Friday, the ACC Council of Presidents made the unanimous decision to file legal action to ensure the enforcement of this obligation."

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