Louisville's move to the ACC is a hit with Darrell Griffith
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The concern about the flight path of University of Louisville athletics had percolated across the area for more than a year.
U of L needed to find a more stabile address than the Big East. But it didn't appear that another league was interested – not the SEC nor the Big Ten nor the ACC or even the Big 12. There were moments when the fretting about the future was stirring more attention than what the Cardinals' teams were achieving.
Darrell Griffith, the school's signature basketball player, refused to fret.
"I knew we had (athletic director) Tom Jurich and (U of L president) Dr. James Ramsey on our side," Griffith said. "I'd ride with them any day. I knew they would get something done."
Jurich and Ramsey didn't merely get something done. They achieved something that reasonable people were convinced was an unreasonable goal:
They maneuvered U of L past Connecticut out of the Big East and into a league that fits the Cardinals as perfectly as an alley-oop pass to Griffith to the rim – the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Rick Pitino is in the same league with Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. "That's a slam dunk. The Big East is in absolute chaos. It's a great move for Louisville."
"Speaking from a fan standpoint, the ACC fits Louisville so much better than the Big 12," Griffith said. "The cities they play in are places that Louisville fans are willing to visit and that they can get to. And the basketball tradition is tremendous."
Hold on. Isn't this conference realignment battle supposed to be about football, football and more football?
Yes. So I wondered what the reaction was from the Godfather of Louisville football – Howard Schnellenberger, the man who gave the program its ambition and legitimacy nearly three decades ago.
"The dream lives on," Schnellenberger said.
You don't need a reminder about what dream that is. Remember Schnellenberger's mission statement for U of L football -- that the Cardinals were on a collision course with the national championship with the only variable being time.
"Now they'll again be able to schedule the kinds of teams that we scheduled when I was there and compete at the highest levels of the game," Schnellenberger said. "It's a helluva move. They should be strongly congratulated."
It is a move that pumps high-octane adrenaline into the football program. The Big East was dying. The Big East was a punching bag. Charlie Strong was not thrilled about the future.
Yes, ACC football does not compete at the same level as the SEC or Big 12, but with programs such as Florida State, Miami Virginia Tech and Clemson the ACC can regain its vibrancy. (As long as the ACC doesn't break up, too, but that's a story for another hour.)
Don't forget that Notre Dame is scheduled to join the league as a full member in every sport but football. But the Irish are committed to playing five games against ACC opponents every season. That means the Leprechaun and golden helmets will make an appearance in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium every five or six seasons.
"Won't it be fun to beat them?" Schnellenberger said.
In basketball, the ACC wants to compete at the top level of the game. Duke and North Carolina expect to win national titles. Bring Duke and North Carolina to the KFC Yum! Center and you're going to be making a scene.
"You can write this down," Griffith said. "They're going to play their conference tournament at the Barclays Center (the sparking arena that just opened in Brooklyn). This league is made for exposure in New York City."
Women's basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, swimming – those programs all benefit, too.
"I'm not just happy," Griffith said. "I'm elated."