Forgive University of Louisville fans if they seem to be walking on air the next few weeks and months. No waking up, shaking their collective head and realizing it was all a dream. They’re living it. A new era in UofL athletics and academics begins Tuesday as the University is officially welcomed into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

To fully appreciate the significance of the move, one would have had to have followed Louisville for seven decades through the various conferences in which UofL has participated during one’s lifetime, seven conference affiliations during that span. Check that. Make it eight now — the ultimate conference, the ACC. Member institutions speak volumes about the quality of the conference — Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami. And, of course, Notre Dame in every sport except football.ACC-logo-with-Louisville-Cardinal-Bird

The premier destination for a program that has competed at the highest levels for decades despite tremendous obstacles, overcoming the stigma of mid-major status in struggling conferences, achieving national respect despite severe scheduling challenges.  Building for the future, investing in athletic facilities second to none, hoping, wishing, praying not to be left out when the final bell rings for conference realignment.

Some really dark days there for a while, more than five years, watching conferences expand and implode, prominent members leaving the Big East Conference, watching a once proud league steadily implode. There would be tantalizing, sometimes conflicting rumors of possible inclusion in the Big XII only to lose out to West Virginia in the end. Any chance of getting into the SEC expansion blocked by a rival university. The ACC said to be beyond UofL’s reach for geographic and academic reasons. Anxious UofL fans scouring the Internet daily dissecting dozens of rumors, parsing official statements, watching and waiting, trusting all the while in the abilities of Tom Jurich to prevail against sometimes overwhelming odds.

Being excluded would have been a crushing blow to fans for whom the University is like a second family. Missing out would surely mean being forever banished to the ranks of the also-rans, getting shut out in the recruiting wars, being relegated to second-rate football bowls, relying on past accomplishments with little odds of seriously being respected in the national polls. The situation was undeniably bleak until the Big 10 decided to expand again in November 2012, extending invitations to Rutgers and Maryland. The ACC needed to replace Maryland. At long last, the gods were smiling on UofL.

Tom Jurich seized the opportunity, and there was little doubt from the beginning that Louisville would win out over UConn and Cincinnati. Tom had gotten a head start, you see, building all those quality facilities over the past decade, hiring quality coaches with big dreams who can recruit competitive athletes. He had also developed a strong support network locally of people who believed in him, believed in the University, wanted the best for the community.

That support network included people with vision and money, including the late Owsley B. Frazier, of Brown-Forman Distillers, Bernard Trager, of Republic Bank, Dan Ulmer, of Citizens Fidelity Bank, John Schnatter, of Papa John’s, Mark and Cindy Lynn, of VisionWorks, Malcolm Chancey, Liberty National Bank, Sonny Bass, of Bass & Weisberg Realtors, Mason Rudd, Rudd Equipment Company, and Jim Patterson, of Rally’s Hamburgers and Long John Silver’s, just to name a few.

Jurich quickly earned respect among the city’s movers and shakers, selling them on his vision for the University’s athletic department, convincing them of infinite possibilities and how their investments in UofL would profoundly affect the national image of the community. They bought into his dreams and the heavy hitters continue to invest in the program again and again. Far be it from this observer to neglect the name of Bill Olson who got the ball rolling with the hiring of Howard Schnellenberger and the construction of the football stadium.

Bill Olsen provided a preview of what can happen while Tom Jurich amassed the resources, achieved the momentum, and built the machine that busted the door down.

Equally important has been the never wavering support of UofL fans, with deep emotional ties to the program.A fan base that gets involved at many different levels, individuals giving in so many different ways, any way they can to make it possible for UofL to compete with the best. A fan base that has refused to accept the limitations of existing facilities or conference affiliations.A fan base that has dug deep to support the growth, paying a first-class price in terms of contributions and tickets, loyal, always wanting more for UofL. A fan base that will continue to grow locally and regionally, setting new attendance records while demanding excellence.

A success story worthy of inclusion in the annals of Horatio Alger, a rags to riches tale in which a once struggling university, when blessed with exemplary leadership, is able to overcome adversity and finally achieve fame, honor and riches along the way to achieving the American dream.

Membership in the ACC is more than a dream, however, it’s a reality providing a pathway for even greater achievements for an athletic program Jurich describes as being humble and hungry, but eager to take advantage of all the opportunities that abound in the new conference affiliation.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

6 thoughts on “Rags to riches as Louisville enters Atlantic Coast Conference”
  1. Are we there yet? Come on Tuesday. We’ve been waiting forever to get into a quality conference like the ACC. Whole new wardrobe coming with all the new adidas designs and ACC logos. We love you, ACC.

    1. Congratulations! You guys really deserve it. You’ll make the Conference stronger!

  2. The ACC has come of the most gracious and welcoming fans in all of America. We couldn’t have landed in a better conference.

  3. I have to say it’s early and I just glanced at the ACC logo (in the post) with Cardinal Bird…and at 1st glance all I saw was ACC and the Cardinal in an Orange Bowl. I admit I hadn’t had my 1st cup of coffee, yet. (Charlie does that show you my priorities :-))

    Anyway…ACC here we come…I hope you’re NOT ready…Bwaaaaaaaaahaaaaawwwwwwww!

    Go Cards!

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