Big 12 expansion: To cheer or not for Louisville
Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals play Florida on Saturday for a berth in the Final Four, and even if your interest in college basketball is minimal, the game has significance for college football fans.
The game could have some impact — albeit small — on conference realignment.
If Louisville makes the Final Four, it’s another reminder of the Cards’ overall athletic prowess. In the same way that TCU’s Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in January 2011 made even skeptics in this part of the country take notice of the Horned Frogs’ ascension, another basketball achievement by the ‘Ville would lift the tide of the Cardinals’ case.
Louisville has reached eight Final Fours in its history. Rick Pitino coached the Cardinals to the 2005 Final Four, then fell one game shy in both 2008 and 2009. Only North Carolina (18), UCLA (18), Duke (15), Kentucky (14), Kansas (13) and Ohio State (10) have been to more Final Fours.
As we’ve said repeatedly, the home run options for the Big 12 are gone. If the Big 12 wants to expand — for financial reasons, or geographic reasons, or political reasons — then Louisville clearly is the No. 1 option.
I’ve been told by some that the new Big 12 contract with ABC, which extends through 2025, makes expansion more likely, not less likely. I haven’t confirmed that, so who knows. But at a minimum, some in the Big 12 still prefer expansion, and Louisville clearly is next on the list.
The Cardinals have a well-rounded athletic program, a solid fan base and a new and good market, with the city of Louisville. Again, the ‘Ville is not an automatic home run. But every time the Cardinals make a big splash, they increase their chances – and the only non-football splashes that matter are the men’s Final Four.
I know, football steers the ship. But the addition of a basketball school like Louisville– with a football program that doesn’t stink (new stadium, decent recent tradition, strong upside) – would make for some exciting times around Big 12 hardwoods. Think about Kansas City and the Big 12 Tournament with Kansas, Louisville, West Virginia and Texas. If the Oklahoma schools ever get their act together, you’re talking about some marquee matchups.
You want Louisville in the Big 12? A victory over Florida would enhance the case.
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