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ACC votes to add Louisville, not UConn

Updated 9:07 am, Thursday, November 29, 2012
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The first shock waves hit a little after sunrise Wednesday when the university presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference voted unanimously on a conference call to invite Louisville -- and not Connecticut -- into the ACC family.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst later called it a "tough moment" in a "difficult day."

Hey, president Herbst, "tough" and "difficult" are just the tip of the iceberg.

Once again, UConn is playing the role of the bridesmaid that didn't catch the bouquet. Or the plain-looking girl sitting in the corner never being asked to dance. Or the chubby kid not being chosen for kickball.

The ACC decided on Louisville. Not UConn. And if you're Herbst or Athletic Director Warde Manuel, that's a big time slap in the face -- and a punch to the gut financially, as the snub will cost UConn millions in TV revenue.

Barely a week after Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the Big Ten, rumors had been swirling on which team, or teams, would replace the Terrapins in the ACC when they head to the Big Ten in 2014. On Wednesday, we found out. It's the Louisville Cardinals.

For now, UConn will continue to tread water in the Big East Conference -- or Big Least, depending on who you ask -- and sit by the telephone, fingers crossed, that the ACC or the Big Ten will someday call and ask them to join the party.

Don't hold your breath waiting, Husky Nation.

"I know this may seem like a tough moment for our fans, but we need to focus on the fundamentals of academic success across the university and in our athletic program as well," Herbst said Wednesday in a statement. "We are winners -- we win, we like to win and we will continue to play the best possible opponents. We will be athletically successful, regardless of our conference, because of our successes in NCAA competition. We will keep building our winning record through the lens of a great university that focuses on academics, not on the fluid and unpredictable nature of conference realignment. Again, I realize this is a difficult day, but when we focus on research, discovery, and student success, we'll never go wrong."

Nice sentiment -- and some pretty good spin doctoring -- but that's not what UConn fans wanted to hear. They wanted to hear about a new future in the ACC, a conference whose future is now as solid as concrete. They did not want to hear about staying in the Big East, a conference whose future is now about as solid as quicksand.

UConn can boast of three men's NCAA basketball championships since 1999, seven NCAA women's basketball titles since 1995 and five football bowl appearances in the last eight years, including a BCS Fiesta Bowl berth against Oklahoma in 2010.

Louisville has not won a men's NCAA basketball title since 1986. How are they a better athletic fit than the Huskies?

For whatever reason, apparently they are.

"The one thing I'll tell you is being around Louisville's athletic department quite a bit, I'm not surprised that they're attractive," said ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. "I feel that they have a lot to offer, not saying that UConn doesn't, but I think that people can't just focus on football and men's basketball. If you look at Louisville's entire athletic department, they're very competitive in softball and baseball and a lot of different areas. I think they're a very attractive school and it's just one more hit, unfortunately, for the Big East."

What joining the ACC does for Louisville is give a huge boost to the Cardinals' bank account. The current Big East media rights pact -- the basketball deal with ESPN/CBS expires after this season and the football deal with ESPN expires in 2013-14 -- only gave $4.6 million to each Big East school. The new ACC agreement with ESPN will give each school an estimated $18 million.

Last April, the Big East presidents voted down a nine-year, $1.17 billion deal with ESPN that would have paid out $13.8 million to full members and $2.4 million to non-football members. The league is currently negotiating with several networks, including ESPN, Fox and NBC Sports Network/Comcast. Published reports estimate that the Big East's media rights are worth only between $60 million and $130 million annually.

Back in September 2011, when Pittsburgh and Syracuse accepted ACC invitations, UConn was also thought to have been a serious candidate to go along with the Panthers and Orange to the ACC but was not asked to join. And in September, when Notre Dame accepted an ACC invite to join in all sports except football, it was thought the Huskies again would be asked to follow along.

Again, they were not.

ESPN.com reported that the ACC had considered adding both UConn and Cincinnati for membership along with the Cardinals, but decided that if the conference needed to add additional schools, it could do so at a later date.

The Big Ten, now at 14 schools with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, might decide down the road to expand to 16, possibly looking at the Huskies to expand their sphere of influence to the Northeast.

But all the Huskies can do for now is sit and wait.

"Conference realignment is a prominent national issue in collegiate athletics and will continue to be so into the future," Manuel said in a statement. "UConn has established a rich history as a very successful academic and athletic institution. We understand that because of that, UConn will continue to be brought up in the discussion regarding potential schools considered in realignment.

"We have and will continue to monitor the situation regarding conference realignment and work to ensure that UConn is in the best position for the continued success of our athletic programs. We are proud of the success of our coaches and student-athletes and the tradition that has been established of winning conference and national championships."

But what do the Huskies have to do to get an invitation? Aren't a total of 15 NCAA championships (two in field hockey and three in men's soccer, along with basketball) good enough? Isn't a No. 63 ranking of American universities by U.S. News and World Report good enough? What about sitting in the 28th largest media market in the country? Isn't that good enough?

Apparently not.

"We are proud and appreciative of our great Husky fan base. Husky Nation is strong all over the country and the world," Manuel said.

It's just not good enough for the ACC. Or the Big Ten, for that matter.

celsberry@ctpost.com http://Twitter@elsctpost