Those three headliners addressed the large, assembled crowd, as did baseball coach Dan McDonnell, women's basketball coach Jeff Walz and several other coaches. But while the weather at the riverfront restaurant was conducive to a festive atmosphere, the question on most people's minds was about the future of the Big East.
With speculation rampant the past few months that Big Ten expansion could include several current Big East members, crippling the league in the process, Jurich, now in his 13th year at UofL, addressed the all-important issue with fans and media in attendance.
Clearly, Jurich is bracing for the worst. That's what he recently told the Louisville Courier-Journal and his tone Thursday reflected his concern.
"The one thing we've got to do is worry about ourselves and that's what we're focused in on," Jurich said. "Fortunately, that's what we've done the last 15 years – we've built facilities, we've built our programs, we've got unbelievable gender equity and out women's sports are dominating. We've got a new arena, new stadium, great coaches across the board..and we've never had an issue with compliance in my 13 years. I think people out there, whatever conferences are looking at us..look at us and say, 'they're doing it the right way."
Louisville has flourished in the Big East since moving from Conference USA five years ago. The Cardinals have won league titles in several sports, including football, men's basketball and baseball.
"We're in a great conference," Jurich said. "In a perfect world this is where I want to be. The Big East is a great fit for the University of Louisville. I really want it to stay put."
Several reports surfaced this week that the Big Ten has or will invite current Big East members Notre Dame and Rutgers, in addition to Missouri and Nebraska from the Big 12. The Big East recently announced the hiring of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the league's strategic planner. His goal? To find a way to preserve the Big East in the current expansionist climate.
"He understands [TV] networks and how to bundle TV rights," Jurich said. "The great thing about him is he sees everything from 30,000 feet. He doesn't really have an iron in the fire. He wants us to grow the smart way, do the right things and not be totally reactive."
That, however, is a major challenge for a league consisting of 16-members with divergent interests.
"We have to be somewhat reactive because someone else is going to make the first move," Jurich said. "We don't have anything to be proactive to yet. Nobody should panic. We all have anxiety and concern because we're dealing with the unknown. I want to be out in front but there's nothing to be out in front of with this deal. So that's frustrating."
There has been considerable speculation that the Big 10 could expand to 16-teams, fostering an environment that could lead to the creation of four 16-team "super conferences." Jurich isn't convinced that's the direction conference future is headed.
"I've got to be convinced of that. I don't believe it right now because they're so difficult to manage," Jurich said. "When you're dealing with 16 teams it's cumbersome."
Photos by Jim Davis.