The ACC membership roll is back to 14 after its leaders extended a bid to the University of Louisville on Wednesday.
Of the other schools interested in joining the conference — Cincinnati and Connecticut — the one from the Bluegrass just makes more sense at this time.
Right off the bat, the Louisville football program is an upgrade from Maryland’s in regards to current status. The Cardinals are on the upswing under coach Charlie Strong and are battling for the Big East title to secure a BCS bowl bid, which would be their second in seven years.
In regards to the ACC’s showcase sport, basketball, Louisville is right there in the conversation with Duke and North Carolina. The Cardinals have two national championship banners hanging from the rafters at the Yum Center and are amongst the contenders to cut down the nets in Atlanta this March.
Perhaps more importantly with all the rumors swirling around of the Big Ten wanting to poach two more ACC members, the Cardinals have no plans to jump ship.
Not now. Not after waiting years for a big time conference to come knocking on their door.
Louisville continued to play as an independent on the gridiron, while the rest of its teams competed in the Metro Conference after the first round of conference expansion occurred in 1992. This is when the Big East invited a handful of schools to start playing football under its umbrella. At the same time, Florida State joined the ACC and Arkansas and South Carolina were added to the SEC.
Four years later, the members of the Metro and the Great Midwest conferences combined to create Conference USA. The newly formed league only featured six football playing schools out of a membership of 12 in its first season and none were going to be confused with the country’s elite programs. The basketball wasn’t much better and paled in comparison to the ACC, Big Ten and even the SEC.
This had always been Louisville’s curse, playing in the shadows of the area schools and its big conference affiliations. In-state rival Kentucky was a member of the SEC, while Indiana and Purdue were in the Big Ten.
Because of this, the Cardinals were always lost in the shuffle.
Conference realignment reared its ugly head again in 2004 as Miami and Virginia Tech made the switch to the ACC from the Big East followed a year later by Boston College.
The Big East needed replacement schools and looked to Conference USA. It was able to pull in Louisville, along with Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida.
It appeared as if the Cardinals had found the perfect conference to build their nest. The Big East, even with the departure of the Hurricanes and Hokies, still featured several solid football programs and was considered one of the best basketball conferences in the country.
Louisville was beginning to get national recognition not only for its basketball and football teams, but its other athletic programs as well. All seemed well not only for the Cardinals but the Big East as a whole.
Then the other shoe dropped — as more schools jumped conferences this spring.
Texas A&M and Missouri waved goodbye to the Big 12 and said hello to the SEC, which forced the Big 12 to pull in West Virginia. The ACC sensed a few other Big East schools were ripe for the picking and grabbed Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
While the previous realignments helped Louisville get into a better conference situation, this one didn’t and it really hurt the administration and the fan base. The reason? The Cardinals had made a strong push to get into the Big 12 instead of the Mountaineers but in the end was passed over.
It confirmed to everyone associated with Louisville that it was the little child on the playground no one wanted on their team unless they really, really were forced into taking them.
But that all changed Wednesday when the Cardinals were the ACC’s top pick to join its brethren.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.