LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For the better part of 15 years, University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has worked under a cloud.
Conference realignment, even when it wasn't on the front burner, has been constantly simmering for U of L. It demanded Jurich's attention, effort and in some cases, money. And it made demands on his administrative staff.
"I couldn’t tell you how many hours," said Jurich's son, Mark, U of L's senior associate athletic director for development. ". . . But the fact of it was always around."
"I've gotten pretty good at this, this lame duck situation," Tom Jurich said Tuesday. "This is our fourth conference in my 17 years here, but it's difficult, and you're out there on an island by yourself. Not me, but our university."
So what happens now? With the Atlantic Coast Conference officially welcoming U of L amid pomp, circumstance, celebrations and mascots on Tuesday, one way life will be different when U of L's athletic department reports to work in the morning is that conference concerns are gone, not likely to resurface anytime soon.
How might that free up mindpower and manpower in the U of L athletic department to move forward without worry about the college sports landscape?
"We've had to be very fluid," Jurich said. "That's just the nature of the job, and it's pretty much been the nature of our environment in the collegiate atmosphere. But I think now things have stabilized. . . . It was the most weight I ever had on my shoulders, because I care so much about this place and invested so much of my emotion into it. It's never been a job for me. It's my passion. That to me was the biggest relief that I knew that our student athletes, fans and our wonderful school will have the opportunity to be with the elite."
Among things to look for immediately are the question of whether U of L might add sports. During a recent interview with WDRB, U of L president James Ramsey said it's a possibility. The only ACC sports that U of L does not offer are wrestling, men's lacrosse and fencing.
Jurich could see if there's any kind of demand to add those.
But of more immediate importance are some building issues, in the following priority:
1. An Academic Center for athletics, to be built into the south end of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Expected cost: $14 million.
2. Examination of the possibility of expanding Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. U of L has put out a request for proposals, and has been consulting to see what the feasibility of expansion would be. Mark Jurich said feedback so far has been positive.
On Tuesday, Jurich said his main concern would be to make sure that U of L is competitive right away in the league.
"I'm not naïve enough to think we're going to go in and win handfuls and handfuls of championships, although that's going to be our goal," Jurich said. "But we want to make sure that we're prepared to compete. . . . It's the ultimate Olympic sports conference. Football and basketball are well-documented, but I think we're well-positioned in all our sports."
Jurich isn't the only one at U of L looking to capitalize quickly on the new conference affiliation.
U of L president James Ramsey is well aware that the prestige that comes with associating with universities like Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest and others can be valuable, in both perception and reality.
When Florida State moved to the ACC in 1992 it experienced a boost in its U.S. News & World Report ranking of American universities. Ramsey isn't counting on that, but noted that U of L already is enjoying the benefits of ACC relationships.
"We like to say we're on an amazing trajectory in terms of the quality of students, our graduation rate, our funded research," Ramsey said. "We know we have more to do. But what greater academic neighborhood to live in than the ACC? You have great public schools, great private schools, some of the top public and private schools absolutely in the United States. So it's a sense of pride for us, number one. Number two, it takes us into new recruiting markets. Number three, it offers us collaborations.
"We've already announced a collaboration with regard to emergency medicine with the University of Pittsburgh and we're included in all kinds of conversations now and opportunities now that we haven't really had before. I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg. But this is the academic neighborhood that we want to be associated with and affiliated with as we continue to work as hard as we can every year to get academically better and better and better."
Ramsey said U of L has been picked to host a gathering of ACC student government officers later this year.
"It's a great footprint for us for student recruiting, for faculty collaborations, for research collaboration," Ramsey said. "And then there is the profile. And the biggest factor in the U.S. News & World Report (rankings) unfortunately is an attitudinal survey asking 'how do you feel about these schools.' So I would think that would help us. . . . What we have to do is do our job every day, and do our job getting better, and those things will take care of themselves."