Cards appear on the move
Several sources close to the University of Louisville athletic program have told ITV that the Cards are headed to the Big East conference sooner rather than later. One trusted source even claims this deal could happen within a matter of a few short weeks, giving the Cardinals and its fans membership in a long awaited BCS conference.
But the ball squarely rests in the Atlantic Coast Conference's hands and any move by Louisville won't happen until ACC members either reject or embrace expansion plans to add three new members to the 50 year old league.
At present, the ACC and Commissioner John Swafford don't have the necessary seven votes from the league's presidents to approve ambitious expansion plans that would add Miami, Syracuse and Boston College to form a 12 team super conference that would result in a two division arrangement and a lucrative football championship game.
It appears the ACC basketball schools along Tobacco Road, North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State are firmly against the idea of expanding the conference at this time. Wake Forest officials are also said to be on the fence and are concerned that expansion would not benefit the Winston-Salem school. And the Governor of Virginia and state legislature are applying pressure to University of Virginia officials behind the scenes to either include state sponsored Virginia Tech in ACC expansion plans or cast a vote against any expansion proposal.
At the same time the ACC expansion movement appears to be losing steam, a counter proposal for expansion in the Big East is gaining both supporters and momentum behind the scenes. The basic premise of this plan is that the eight football-playing members of the league would break away from the five catholic basketball only members to form a new all-sports league. The plan, according to media reports, would include the addition of four new members to the new "break away" Big East football conference, raising total membership in the new league to 12 and would allow for the "break away" league to stage its own lucrative football championship game.
In this new "break away" arrangement, Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, West Virginia and UCONN would form the core of the new league and would look to immediately find four additional members to reach the required twelve members to stage a football championship game of its own.
This is where Louisville enters the "break away" picture. As the top non-BCS program in the eastern half of the United States, UofL would clearly be a top choice of the new league to receive an invitation to join the expanding Big East all-sports membership. With its nationally respected men's basketball program, exciting and competitive football team, Title XI compliance, strong fan following and home attendance figures, excellent and improving facilities on campus and BCS-like revenues, the Cards bring much to the table for any new league. Considering all these factors, the Cards are a near shoe-in in the "break away" scenario.
As for the remaining three teams to be added to the new "break away" conference, Penn State, Temple, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida and Marshall appear the most likely candidates for the remaining spots in the new league.
Penn State is a logical geographic fit in the new league but would be hard pressed to leave the certainty of the Big Ten Conference for the uncertain future of the new "break away" league. Notre Dame will likely be presented with the option to either join the new league totally, including its lucrative independent football program, or leave the conference altogether.
Temple appears one of the most likely candidates to fill one of the remaining seats in the new league despite being voted out of the Big East less than one year ago. In fact, conversations between Temple and Big East officials are already underway for the Owls return to the league as an all sports member, according to published media reports in recent days.
That would leave two more spots to fill in the new league. Cincinnati would likely get the next invitation because of its nationally respected men's basketball program, geographic location and natural rivalries with Louisville, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The Bearcats have also fielded competitive football teams in recent years and have an attractive television market in its favor.
Determining the last spot appears to be a decision whether to strengthen the basketball side of the league or potentially enhance the football part of the equation. Memphis, with its tradition rich basketball program, would surely enhance and strengthen the new league's hoops slate and would likely have the support of the new league's traditionally strong basketball schools. The Tigers could also benefit from its long standing rivalry with both Louisville and Cincinnati should both the Cards and Bearcats receive invitations and it's television market and local corporate support could be deciding factors in the Tigers favor.
On the other hand, if league members decide another football school is the direction to go, South Florida or Marshall could figure into the new conference's equation. South Florida is an intriguing choice because of its location in talent-laden Tampa, FL and has generated strong interest and support for its growing football program since joining 1-A last season. Marshall has an uphill climb to enter the new league over either Memphis or South Florida despite its respected and competitive football program. West Virginia would likely oppose the addition of its in-state rival and the Herd's lack of a competitive basketball program or enticing television market appear hurdles they likely couldn't overcome to receive an invitation to the new league.
But this entire scenario is moot if ACC officials can convince seven member schools to approve its ambitious expansion plans to add Miami, Syracuse and either Boston College or Virginia Tech. If that were to happen, the entire landscape of college football would change dramatically in short order. One way or another though, the Cards appear on the move sooner rather than later.