I spoke with U of L athletic director Tom Jurich yesterday during the school’s groundbreaking for a new boathouse on the Ohio River. It was a milestone moment, actually, because it now means that U of L will officially have built a new facility for every varsity sport since 1994 when the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center opened its doors.
And while such an event might not seem big on its surface, it’s that kind of thing that could be a big deal if U of L finds itself in the position of having to find a new conference home. Jurich is still very hopeful that it won’t have to, but noted yesterday that the Big East “isn’t out of the woods.”
Here’s an excerpt of the conversation:
EC: I would ask you what kind of game plan is in place for reacting to expansion, but things are so fluid, I’m not sure what the game is. Is there any way you can plan for what is coming?
You don’t know what to react to. There’s no way to be proactive. What I keep telling the board and everybody is that we’ve just got to take care of ourselves, continue to grow, continue to improve academically, because that’s what people are going to look at. We’ve got to keep doing a great job with our gender equity, and our compliance has to be perfect. And I think the rest of it will come. It’s not going to be because of any coaches or any of that. It’s just going to be a question of where to we fit. And I hope it’s the Big East, I really do, because it’s a natural for us.
In a perfect world, the Big East is perfect for us.
EC: The target seems to have shifted from the Big East to the Big 12 for the time being, can you take that as good news or that the Big East might have dodged a bullet?
No I don’t think we’re out of any woods. But I just don’t see Jim Delaney, the little bit that I know of him, and I’ve always respected him greatly, I see him as a steward not just of the Big Ten, but really of college athletics. And I don’t see him just dynamiting the whole country. I really don’t. If he has to tweak his league, one or two, I get that. But I just don’t see him going and making wholesale changes. Plus the Big Ten has such a fabulous brand. Why would you mess with that?
EC: But it has to be a little more hopeful that they’ve turned from Rutgers and Syracuse and Pitt to Missouri, Nebraska and those schools, right?
I agree. At least we’re not the first story now. The Big 12 and now the Pac 10 are now the guys in the headlines. We’re going to do everything in our power to be aggressive, I promise you that, whether we’re in the Big East, or whether we’re in the Pac 10. We’re going to be aggressive.
EC: I’d better not quote you on the Pac 10. People will think you’re serious and start seeing how you match up with USC.
(Laughs) Yeah, be careful.
EC: I heard Mike Slive talk last week in Destin and I couldn’t tell if he was really sold on expansion.
He doesn’t need it. Really, honestly, what more does the SEC need? They’ve got a fabulous brand. Mike Slive is great, and he’ll always have them at the top.
EC: Are you suprised at all, if these mega-conferences come about, that the logistics of them hasn’t been discussed more?
Let me tell you, 16 teams is very cumbersome. Only one conference in history has ever done it and the Big East isn’t it, because there’s only eight football schools. It was the WAC, and I was in it when we went to 16 football teams and it was ridiculous. We had to play in quads and we moved quads around, spread out from Texas all the way to San Jose. You’d go three years without playing teams.
EC: We’ve seen conference changes before, and I know this is a delicate question, but what do you think of the way this has been handled? It’s so quiet, and then things leak and everybody goes nuts and you have entire conferences in limbo. Is there a better way, or is this just going to be how it is with the news cycle this way?
I think whenever anything like this gets public, it’s obviously an earthquake, there’s no question about it. But what it also does is force everybody to take a look a themselves, and that’s what we’ve done, and I’m really going to focus in on us. Hopefully we’ll be attractive to people. But No. 1, I hope we’re attractive to the Big East. Because I’m not even giving you a sales pitch — I truly believe it is the perfect place for U of L. You have like institutions, you have schools that are the same makeup, city schools, it’s been terrific. And then the exposure. Your unofficial home is New York City.
EC: To me, this all centers around Notre Dame. Do you know anything about their thinking, or the Big East’s stance toward them?
TJ: People all the time are saying to me about Notre Dame, “Throw them out (of the Big East.” People don’t have a clue. Notre Dame carries a big ol stick, and they’ve been arm in arm with the Big East. Maybe they’re not playing football, but they’ve done a great job for us. They don’t flex their muscle. I’ve never been in one meeting where they weren’t supportive. They’ve been supportive around that BCS table. And Louisville fans, especially, of any people, need to remember, it was Kevin White when he was athletic director at Notre Dame, who helped me get Louisville into that league. He helped. From football bowls to TV contracts, they’ve helped with everything. Even though they’re with NBC, they still carry a ton of weight.