Sportswriters often get caught up in they hype that they help create.
Andy Glockner at SI.com is just such a sportswriter. He breathlessly writes that Louisville's entry into the ACC should capture the attention of Kentucky and its fans:
One of real estate's oldest axioms is that you never want to have the best house on the block. It's much better to be in a nicer neighborhood where the collective quality of the properties helps lift everyone's value. Kentucky, especially with John Calipari's Unstoppable Recruiting Machine continuing its U.S. tour, still has a nicer house than the Cardinals, but Louisville inarguably now is in the better neighborhood for the first time in the rivalry's modern construct.
Obviously, we have to presume he is talking about basketball, and if so, it is certainly defensible to say that the basketball-centric ACC is a better conference in that sport than the SEC. Even though the SEC has 3 teams (as many as the ACC currently) in the top 25, the addition of Louisville and Syracuse would make it 5-3. So I think that, speaking strictly for basketball, Louisville's neighborhood is a bit better, although I'd say the Big East as currently constructed is at least as good, and arguably has been better than the ACC most years. That crumbling noise is, after all, a zero-sum game for both conferences -- the improvement of one comes at the expense of the other.
The ACC as currently constructed is also a better football conference ... than the Big East, anyway, but it's at the bottom of the food chain among other major conferences in that sport, which happens to be vastly more lucrative than basketball. Glockner has no real reason to care about that, but the fact of the matter is that Kentucky will still reap superior monetary awards from the SEC, and the house metaphor must rationally be extended to football as well as basketball. The addition of Louisville, Syracuse, and Pitt, on balance, may be a net negative in the football area. At best, it is a marginal improvement.
From the football standpoint, Louisville makes an incremental improvement from the Big East, but let's be realistic -- the ACC powers, even Florida State and Clemson, are significantly inferior to the cream of the SEC, and even Kentucky today in football is likely to be superior to five of the current ACC schools in football. Consider this chart, with data from FootballOutsiders.com (thanks to Matt Ragland for the idea):
|3||Texas A&M||8-2||SEC||37||Virginia Tech||5-6||ACC|
|19||South Carolina||9-2||SEC||58||North Carolina||7-4||ACC|
|24||Mississippi||5-6||SEC||75||North Carolina State||6-5||ACC|
|Rankings by Football Outsiders.com|
So what we see here is that this year, the entire SEC, including Kentucky and Auburn who had 1 and 2 win (FBS) seasons respectively are ranked higher than 5 teams in the ACC despite fewer wins. Are Louisville, Syracuse and Pitt really going to improve that situation much? Doubtful.
Of course, in some ways, the marginal nature of the football upgrade is good for Louisville as well -- their football program finds itself in much less stony and unfertile ground in the soft ACC than if they moved to the Big 12 or SEC, even if it isn't as soft as Big East football -- a conference closer to the Sun Belt than the SEC. Landing in the ACC provides Louisville football with a little more prestige at the cost of marginally more competitive foes.
So nobody, and certainly not I, could rationally argue that Louisville didn't get a good deal here. Their basketball competition will not be harder than the Big East of recent years, since substituting Duke and North Carolina for Georgetown and UConn is arguably a minor upgrade at best, and Marquette, Villanova, and Cincinnati make up a tougher group of second-tier schools than the rest of the ACC put together.
Landing in the ACC is a potential game-changer for the Cardinals. They already have a big-time athletics (and basketball) budget and a sweetheart deal on a new pro-style arena. Now they have grander cachet and that should translate into better recruiting, bigger rivalries and higher TV ratings, which could feed a self-fulfilling cycle of success in the 'Ville. A top-10 all-time program in its own right, the Cardinals will never be No. 1 in their own state, but this move gives them a better chance to shoot for that nationally on a regular basis.
The extraordinary "sweetheart deal" by the city of Louisville in favor of the Cardinals with respect to the Yum! Center is one that now sees the bonds issued to pay for the arena downgraded to junk. The city turning to taxpayers to cover the costs of arena operation, from which the University of Louisville is shamelessly reaping millions of dollars. This arrangement will not last forever, and the fact that U of L doesn't even pay to use the arena while raking in 80% of the take from the luxury boxes along with almost all the profits from merchandising points to a day of reckoning. At some point, this taxpayer boondoggle is going to sour as Louisville residents figure out that the arena has become a transfer mechanism for moving tax dollars right into the hands of the U of L Athletics department.
The university may have no direct responsibility for the coming catastrophe for all I know, they may have just been really, really shrewd negotiators. But the bottom line is, sooner or later, the taxpayers are going to figure this little scam out, and at minimum, the Cardinal athletics department is likely to take a hit in both dollars and public perception terms.
Glockner, feeling his oats, closes with this beauty:
Louisville doesn't have to care about the risk of reverse athletics gentrification anymore. It's movin' on up to the east side. With a boost to both athletics and the school's academic reputation, the Cardinals turned one of the most precarious situations in this game of musical chairs into one of its biggest wins. Now let's see how many of those they can get over Kentucky going forward.
Two curious things about this paragraph that I immediately see. First, how does joining the ACC help Louisville's academic reputation in any way? It doesn't, and an assertion that it does is simply bizarre, notwithstanding the validity (or lack thereof) of his main arguments. I'm not being critical of Louisville's academics, just pointing out that joining an athletic conference has no impact on their academics, positive or negative. So how is it going to "boost the Cardinals' academic reputation?" Because Duke is there also? If that's the case, won't UNC's rampant academic fraud rub off on Louisville in a negative way?
Number two, how does joining the ACC make Rick Pitino a better coach? A better recruiter? Does the SEC get better players, on balance, than the Big East in basketball? Not that I can detect. I suspect they will get no more wins over Kentucky "going forward" than they would have as members of the Big East, and his suggestion otherwise has no merit whatsoever absent a more substantial argument than the nullity Glockner puts forth. Is Louisville going to be better next year, or 5 years from now because it joined the ACC? That's risible on it's face.
So while Glockner proposes that Kentucky should be all a-quiver at the new ACC power Louisville Cardinals, I say that it is a nice move for them, but has no impact whatever on Kentucky's position in the world. At best, UK fan reaction to Louisville's realignment is essentially a shrug, and "That's nice, good for them." The recent head coaching hire of Mark Stoops is likely to have a much more significant impact on Kentucky's athletics than anything the Cardinals can muster, regardless of how their recent good fortune makes Glockner swoon.