Jurich, Pitino talk Big East Conference

It's been the hottest topic in the area for more than a year, conference realignment. Cardinal Authority talked to Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino about the future of the University of Louisville athletic program in the Big East Conference.

During a 45-minute talk with the media on Monday, University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was posed the question about what he expects the biggest challenge he will face in the coming years.

On the 15th anniversary of the day he was hired, Jurich had an answer that likely didn't surprise anyone familiar with the U of L program.

"The conference," Jurich said, adding the Big East Conference or any movement "might turn out to be a great asset, you just don't know."

Cardinal Authority has been told by multiple school and league officials that the biggest issue with the change of the conference landscape is that not many folks have any idea what is the next move or when it might happen.

For now, the University of Louisville athletic department is a member of the Big East Conference and the two most influential members of the department have both said in the last few days that nothing is expected to change in the near future.

"There's nothing new," Jurich said. "You know about as much as I do."

U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino said last week: "We can all breathe a little easier now because (the movement) is over. I don't think you will see any major movements in (BCS) conferences for a couple more years.

"The ACC, Big 10 and Pac-10 are set and the Big 12 is happy where it's at right now. The only new expansion I think we'll see is with some of the conferences like the Atlantic-10 and some of the conferences out West."

Those words might not appeal to fans, who for the better part of a year have been clamoring for Louisville to leave the Big East. West Virginia bolted last year for the Big 12, while this is Syracuse and Pittsburgh's final season in the Big East before they start playing in the ACC next fall. Notre Dame is also leaving for the ACC.

But Jurich said, while he doesn't "feel stuck" in the Big East, any kind of movement of conferences isn't as easy as people make it sound.

"The thing is that I think we're very impressive to people out there (as a program," he said. "But you can't go to the dance unless somebody wants you to go with them. So all we can do here is take care of things on this campus, make sure everything is the best we possibly can be.

"I said that when somebody asked me, do you feel stuck? I don't feel stuck in the Big East. I feel sorry for schools that are not in the league that are really on the outside looking in. The Big East has a lot of positives coming. This television contract, I don't have to tell anybody, is going to be a big thing. It's exciting."

Pitino, who publically pushed for Memphis and Temple, which are two of the teams that will be added to the Big East next season, said last week at the Big East Basketball Media day that "the Big East is going to be fine."

"We like our position in the Big East at the University of Louisville," Pitino said. "It's great for all sports. West Virginia is what 800 miles away from it's closest conference team, so that makes for some long trips for those women's sports teams. Sometimes people forget those kinds of things.

"I am very happy expansion is over and we are where we're at."

New Big East Conference commissioner Mike Aresco certainly hasn't forgotten how important the Cardinals are to the future success of the league.

In an interview with Cardinal Authority, Aresco called U of L one of the "bell cows" of the league now and for the future.

"Louisville is extremely, extremely important to the success of this league," Aresco said. "You have one of the best athletic directors in the country and a great President there. They get it at Louisville.

"They understand what needs to be done, and they do it. I don't think you will ever hear anybody downplay what that university means to the Big East Conference."

The Big East will add Memphis, Temple, Central Florida, Houston, and SMU for basketball and football, while adding Boise State and San Diego State for football. Navy is set to join the league in 2015 and another team will be added. The league is also currently negotiating with ESPN and CBS in a television deal and is expected to meet with other networks when the 60-day window is cleared.

"The thing the Big East has working against it right now is you have a bunch of new teams coming in," Jurich said. "But the great bank of experience I have to look back on, six or seven years ago when we came into the Big East is that we were Central Florida. We were Houston. We were Temple.

You name a school, that was us. I see what the Big East has done for us. And I remember at the time all the criticism the Big East took for taking us. I've worn that hat and that's why I won't ever criticize it."

Pitino said his message to the fans would be to "enjoy it," noting the history and strength of the league because "expansion is over with" and "this is where we're at."

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