LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Just in time for the holidays, a new round of college sports conference expansion has arrived.
Rutgers and Maryland are talking seriously with the Big Ten Conference, according to multiple outlets, including ESPN.
And if you've followed these dealings very long, you know that "talking seriously" actually means "done deal." In fact, The Washington Post says that Maryland regents could see a proposal as soon as tomorrow.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, whose team just moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports but football, said he's not surprised to hear the news, noting that FOX had just acquired the YES network (Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and parts of Pennsylvania). FOX also co-owns the Big Ten Network.
Because that, of course, is what this is all about. Market clout. The Big Ten is looking to add the Big Apple (Rutgers), plus the Washington D.C.-Baltimore, area with Maryland.
The big question around here is what will the ACC look to add?
University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich isn't talking, at least not to reporters on the phone, presumably because he's too busy working them. But there's only so much a guy can do to change his city's market profile on short notice, outside of moving his university to St. Louis or somewhere.
The clubhouse leader if talks heat up initially will be Connecticut, if only because UConn already has had one close round of negotiations with the ACC when it wound up adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy in September of 2011 said publicly that UConn was looking to move to the ACC, and has been actively trying to make that happen.
The biggest factor in UConn's favor? The Hartford-New Haven Designated Market Area ranks No. 30 in the U.S., according to The Nielsen Company, with nearly 1 million TV households. Another factor, it's in the home city to ESPN, which, depending on which athletic directors speaking a little too candidly you listen to, has been taking an active "advisory" role in ACC maneuvering for sometime.
And Louisville? It ranks No. 48, with 670,680 households. And ESPN didn't mention Louisville as an ACC expansion candidate in its early stories.
DMA is a pretty clinical measure. It has nothing to do with actual performance on the field, or fairness, or even college sports at all. It's a big reason these conferences shouldn't be allowed to operate as non-profit entities, if their entire decision-making process is based on profit motives.
But that's another story.
The challenge for U of L and athletic director Tom Jurich, then, is to try to overcome that. Can they? Absolutely.
U of L has a football team ranked in the Top 25, a basketball team ranked No. 2 in the nation and a Top 10 women's basketball team.
UConn has a basketball program that won a national title only two years ago, but whose program this season is ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA academic rules. It has a powerhouse women's basketball program. It has a football program that made a BCS bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, in the 2010 season, then embarrassed itself by being unable to sell more than 5,000 tickets.
U of L is coming off a men's basketball Final Four and has a women's program that is among the national leaders in attendance. U of L also won 10 conference titles in a league in which it competed head-to-head against UConn.
Financially, the programs aren't in the same ballpark. UConn has regularly received one of the larger university subsidies in athletics in the nation and not even the increased payout of the ACC is likely to make that department viable on its own merits. U of L's athletic financial health has greatly improved with the expansion of its football stadium and the construction of the KFC Yum! Center.
Oh, wait. There I go again. Talking about quality of programs and performance between the lines.
That stuff does not matter.
That's the climate into which Tom Jurich is trying to sell. He has something worth selling, but it isn't what anyone seems to value anymore.
If there's one thing in U of L's favor it's that schools like Florida State and Clemson might take a look at UConn and prefer Louisville, for football reasons. The Cardinals do, after all, have a ranked team, and a player who likely will get Heisman billing heading into next season.
And, as luck would have it, U of L also has this. It has a home game with UConn coming up this coming Saturday at noon. A head-to-head comparison. There were still 1,000 tickets left last week. That's coming after there were 11,000 no-shows for a game against Temple. If U of L fans leave that many empty seats when UConn visits, they'll have no room to complain about anything that happens. That won't make or break any bid to realign. But let's don't pretend those things don't matter.
Then again, UConn made its first BCS bowl in 2010, and had to eat more than 12,000 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day because it couldn't sell them. And that doesn't seem to matter.
Jurich will be working any ACC connection he can find. U of L president James Ramsey has a degree from North Carolina and will be active in the process. Even in the past decade, U of L's academic and campus profiles have changed, with the campus population rising and the admissions becoming more selective. Still, U of L accepts about 73 percent of its applicants. UConn accepts about 44 percent.
In reality, such rankings are merely window dressing for the real prize -- television households.
Until Jurich and U of L can figure out a way to add those, they're going to be the underdog in every conference battle they fight.