Neither of the two teams playing for the Big East title on Thursday night will be members of the conference very much longer.
Rutgers, at 9-2 overall and leading the once-proud conference with a 5-1 mark, followed one of the founders of the ACC, Maryland, and will be joining the Big Ten in the 2014 season. The Scarlet Knights can win the Big East Championship and earn the program’s first ever trip to a BCS bowl with a win over Louisville.
The game is being played by student-athletes, but there is another game, involving far more money and far older, less athletic (if athletic at all) men. Conference realignment is far more akin to a chess match than a football game, and Maryland’s departure from the ACC has left a vacancy in one of the premier conferences in America.
As of Wednesday morning, however, that vacancy has been filled. The Louisville Cardinals, off to a 9-2 start themselves, can win the Big East themselves with a win over Rutgers. However, if the two resurgent programs should meet again, it will be as out of conference rivals.
With a vote from its now-fellow ACC members, Louisville has been accepted into the conference, effective at the start of the 2014 season.
Both UConn and Cincinnati were strong contenders for the vacant ACC slot, with Cincy even creating a media packet pushing for their entrance into what has become a far stronger conference than what the Big East is shaping up to be.
Louisville now becomes the seventh team to depart the Big East, along with West Virginia, TCU, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Rutgers. The Cardinals bring a unique series of attributes to their new conference that the several other schools to move onto bigger and better things simply cannot bring to the table.
Despite only receiving $3.2 million annually from the Big East’s current media right deal, Louisville has maintained a massive athletics budget. The Office of Postsecondary Education’s Equity in Athletics monitors the budgets of each and every athletic department budget in the nation, and their most recent data comes from the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Whereas Maryland is departing for the cash cow that is the Big Ten Network, having only budgeted $57.5 million in the past fiscal year for its athletic teams, Louisville had a budget of $84.4 million. For the sake of comparison, the ACC’s highest-budgeted member is currently Florida State, who, over the same time frame, spent $81.4 million.
Thus, Louisville does not desperately need their new conference in the manner that departing Maryland and Rutgers need the Big Ten. Conversely, nor does the ACC need Louisville the way the Big Ten desperately would like to break into the New York City and Washington DC television markets.
Of course, bringing in Louisville, which has had the nation’s highest rated college basketball television market in each of the past 10 years, does not hurt.
On the other hand, losing Louisville, and possibly UConn and Cincy in the near future, has inflicted yet another deep gash into the efforts of the Big East to even remain viable as a conference.
With all of the aforementioned defections, the conference is scheduled to bring in nine schools between the 2013 and 2015 seasons: Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Houston, UCF, Memphis, Tulane, East Carolina and Navy.
However, with the new playoff rules coming into place in 2014, stating that the highest-rated mid-level team is guaranteed a BCS bowl birth, Boise State and San Diego State are both rumored to be pondering staying with the Mountain West Conference.
Getting back to Louisville, the ACC will be the school’s third conference since 1996. After spending 21 years as an independent, the Cardinals joined Conference USA before making the switch to the Big East in 2005.
Of course, the commitment to the Big East has been short-lived. The school could end up sticking around for 27 more months, and thus only have to pay a $10 million exit fee. However, all signs are pointing towards a negotiation of the exit fee. Each of the six schools to break out of the Big East have done so immediately or nearly so, paying an exit fee closer to $20 million. Of course, that is relatively nothing compared to the $50 million the Louisville’s newest conference is currently suing Maryland for.
Louisville is the nation’s only school that has reached both the men’s and women’s basketball Final Four, a BCS bowl game, the College World Series and the Men’s Soccer College Cup.
The Cardinals are merely the latest domino to fall in the last few years since teams has very quickly learned to disregard traditional conference alignments and regional ties for the promise of far more revenue somewhere else.
Stay tune to find out what moves Louisville’s actions trigger. Will UConn or Cincy be high-tailing it out of the Big East next?
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