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What the Latest Conference Realignment Moves Could Mean for Louisville

USC and UCLA are heading to the Big Ten, and that could create massive ripple effects for Louisville.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Conference realignment is back and with a vengeance.

On Thursday, San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner reported that USC and UCLA, two of the longest tenured members of the Pac-12 Conference, were planning to leave for the Big Ten Conference. Seven hours later, the move became official, with the two schools set to join starting in 2024.

The move comes a little under a year after it was announced that both Texas and Oklahoma, who are the two founding members of the Big 12 Conference, would be bolting to the Southeastern Conference in 2025. That move caused multiple ripple effects, with the most significant being the Big 12 adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston - with the latter three coming from the American Athletic Conference.

Louisville is no stranger to realignment. During the last major conference shakeup in the early/mid-2010's, the Cardinals found themselves in a different conference for three straight years: the last season of the old Big East in 2012-13, followed by the inaugural year of the American, then finally the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But the arms race between the SEC and Big Ten is leaving a lot more at stake this time around in the previous decade. Billions of dollars in television revenue deals are on the line, as well as the future of multiple programs and conferences, and perhaps even the NCAA itself.

So what does the latest round of conference realignment mean for the University of Louisville? It's safe to assume that several options are on the table at this point, regardless of how directly involved the Cardinals are.

First, let's explore what could happen if UofL stands by to watch the dominoes fall around them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing depending on what transpires.

The ACC, much like the Big 12 this time last year, could become aggressors and try to poach some of the remaining members of the Pac-12. Grabbing schools like Stanford, Oregon, and Washington could be a viable response to the power grabs made by the SEC and Big Ten.

Such a move would also allow the ACC to renegotiate their awful media rights deal, which, along with their grant of rights, runs through 2035-26. During the fiscal year 2020-21, the ACC generated roughly $578 million, which meant each school received an average of $36.1 million.

What did the SEC and Big Ten generate during this time? $777.8/54.6 and $680/46.1 million, respectively. In layman's terms, the ACC was $100 million behind the Big Ten and $200 million behind the SEC.

But while any one of those three Pac-12 schools, or maybe even some members of the Big 12, would be great additions that would help the ACC keep pace, the grand prize is Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish already play multiple ACC opponents each season, and were briefly a member in football during the COVID-impacted 2020 season. Notre Dame's contract with the ACC even stipulates that, if they were to join a conference as a full-time member, it has to be the ACC. That, of course, can be broken by paying exorbitant exit fees.

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With the Big Ten's two most recent additions, speculation has been rampant that if Notre Dame were to join a conference as a full time member, it would be the Big Ten and not the ACC. Commissioner Jim Phillips hasn't shied away from discussing adding Notre Dame as a full-time member, and now, his full-court press on the Irish needs to be kicked up exponentially.

As it turns out, Notre Dame might be the first domino to fall regardless. CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported that the Big Ten informed Oregon and Washington that they are standing pat, and are waiting on a decision from Notre Dame on their future.

Of course, the exact opposite could happen, and the ACC could wind up getting poached themselves if they can't get the Irish (or anyone else) to join the fold.

Schools like Clemson, Florida State, and Miami - even UNC and UVA due to their academics - would be attractive options for either the SEC or Big Ten, and that would almost certainly cause the ACC to collapse. Once again, Louisville would be in conference purgatory.

However, instead of waiting for the pieces to fall into place around them, Louisville could be the ones taking their future into their own hands. Hoping that the ACC positions themselves alongside the SEC and Big Ten as a super conference might be a fruitless endeavor, and it very well could be in their best interests to start lobbying to the SEC and Big Ten.

Though that in and of itself might be a bit of a hard sell. As storied as the Cardinals are in men's basketball, conference realignment has been, and always will be, powered by football. That's just the nature of the beast. Louisville could be on the up-and-up on the gridiron down the line, and has been dominant at times in the 21st century, but as of right now, the program doesn't have the cache that most in the SEC and Big Ten do.

Not to mention that performance in football is only one part of the equation.

According to the most recent university rankings by U.S. News, UofL is tied for the 187th spot on the list. Not only is that far behind the next-best ACC school (N.C. State at T-79th), but the only current SEC or Big Ten school that Louisville surpasses is Mississippi State at T-196. They would easily be the worst academic team in the Big Ten, with Nebraska placing the lowest at T-136. Negotiating for a spot in the SEC or Big Ten might be a tough ask for UofL athletic director Josh Heird.

Regardless of which school joins what conference, the wheels of conference realignment are going at full force, and it only seems like a matter of time before Louisville is impacted by it in some form or fashion.

(Photo of Cardinal Stadium: Matt McGavic - Louisville Report)

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