On Sunday morning, the girlfriend had wrestled control of the remote and was flipping channels, in a quest to find reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race or something, anything that did not involve a basketball.
As for myself, I sat on the couch, visions of Shabazz Napier three-pointers and Kevin Ollie quotes dancing through my head. In a few short hours, basketball would return to quench my never-ending thirst for March Madness.
Unfortunately for the girlfriend, Logo is too close to Bloomberg on the guide and Bloomberg, for reasons that escape me, was running a 30-minute show on the business of March Madness.
She grudgingly agreed to let me watch the last 7 minutes of the show. I wasn’t expecting much. The curiosity factor had me tuned in. Instead, I got an unexpected interview with American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.
The interview was fairly tame. Aresco lauded his conference, expressed disappointment with SMU’s exclusion from the tournament* and pumped up the incoming members, particularly Tulsa. He never mentioned Rutgers. He did mention Louisville
*Three teams beat UConn at home this year. Two, Stanford and Louisville, are in the Sweet 16. SMU is playing in the NIT. How Xavier got in over SMU still baffles me. But the Big East is dead so who cares?
What Aresco said about Louisville – especially in the context of an interview where he did not mention Rutgers – was extremely telling and, frankly, something I had never given too much thought. Aresco said that while the AAC will miss Louisville, he is very grateful for having the Cardinals in the league this year.
While many within the AAC circles were rooting against Louisville all year, Aresco took a different angle. He said, astutely, that Louisville had given the league validation.
Holy crap, I thought, he’s right. Louisville did a lot more good for the AAC than I ever realized.
When it came to football, Louisville was the standard-bearer all year. The preseason hype focused on how easy their schedule was and how they would waltz to an undefeated record. I disagreed. And I was wrong, underestimating how good Teddy Bridgewater was and how bad the bottom of the AAC would turn out to be.
But Louisville made a new star in UCF. In pro wrestling, a new star is made when they beat the old star. Think Hulk Hogan slamming Andre The Giant, then The Rock beating Hulk Hogan, which led to the Rock losing to John Cena. It’s called passing the torch. In pro wrestling, it’s scripted. In college football, it is not.
So when UCF strolled into Papa John’s Stadium and beat Louisville, that was the AAC’s passing the torch moment even if no one realized it. At the time, it was an indication that Louisville was overrated.
By the dawn of 2014, after Louisville had obliterated Miami into a billion pieces in Orlando, some were starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, UCF was really good. With their Fiesta Bowl domination complete, UCF finally got the recognition they deserved.
As we entered the 2014 college football season, UCF is now the league’s standard bearer in football. That doesn’t happen without Louisville.
The league fared better perception-wise on the college basketball side, with its surprising power based on having five ranked teams for most of the year – Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn and SMU. As the defending national champs, having Louisville in that mix elevated the league. They played 8 games – home and home against the other four – that were must-watch television that greatly enhanced the league’s visibility.
Again, Louisville lent the league credibility for a year, which meant signature wins for Memphis and Cincinnati. Even the league’s first conference tournament final, though not that close, felt like a major happening with national powers Louisville and UConn duking it out. Did Providence and Creighton feel that way – or were they just making a mockery of the history of the Big East tournament?
Aresco was right in everything he said because Louisville gave the league validation. It gave every team in the league a big-time opponent to play in basketball and football. It raised the level of the league.
I can’t imagine too many UConn fans being angry at Louisville. Yeah, we wish we had gotten the golden ticket to the ACC but we understand what they were doing – UConn was doing the same thing. Louisville is not Pitt, leading the charge against the ESPN TV contract and then using that as motivation to leave. Louisville is not Boston College, flatly turning its back for more money. Louisville is not Rutgers, moving on to the Big Ten with disdain because it happens to be within an hour’s drive of New York City.
What did Rutgers do for the AAC? Nothing, which is about the same that it did for the Big East. The school officials acted like a spoiled brat, silver spoon in mouth, pouting that it had to hang out with poor kids for a year. At one point, they wouldn’t even lower itself to putting the American logo on its fields and courts.
Louisville made no such qualms. Louisville understood what happened and treated the league with respect.
Louisville, unlike Rutgers, deserves the leap to a Power Five conference. In 2009, the ACC would have picked UConn over Louisville. But while UConn frittered away its football prowess thanks to an incompetent former athletic director who hired an incompetent old fart, Louisville hired Charlie Strong and became a Top 10 power as it rose from the depths of Kragthorpe.
Louisville, unlike Rutgers, won games and championships. Louisville, unlike Rutgers, had UConn’s number.
I should be mad about Louisville leaving. But I can’t be. They didn’t do anything UConn wouldn’t have done, they just had the votes to join the ACC because UConn football had hit rock bottom. Timing is everything in life and UConn picked the wrong time to hire the wrong football coach.
The American Athletic Conference may still have a chance at success. There is potential. The TV contract with ESPN is far less lucrative, but provides massive exposure – again, ask the Catholic 7 how those test pattern ratings on Fox Sports 1 feel.
For the AAC, all that matters is winning. The media seems ingrained in their position that the conference is a joke. Only more wins like UCF’s in the Fiesta Bowl and UConn’s over Villanova will change that. It’s possible, though.
In a final bit of irony, every time Louisville wins an NCAA Tournament game, they earn roughly $1.6 million over 6 years for the AAC. They have already earned the league nearly $5 million in the past four days. Or, approximately $5 million more than Rutgers earned.
Fellow fans of American teams, it’s time to tip your cap and root for Louisville. Until they play UConn in the championship game.
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