As I sit and look at the bracket and ponder about how the Louisville Cardinals gracefully landed in the top spot, many thoughts about my alma mater come to mind. The superstitious person in me doesn’t want to speak about the excitement I feel as we begin the future and the tournament as the favorite. Saying these things aloud could have detrimental effects. Maybe.
Please be advised that the following article is not me speaking. Rather, I share my thoughts out of respect for the team and conscious of my part in not producing a disaster.
[So, Louisville won a share of the Big East regular season title and then went on to win the conference tournament. Wow. In its last year as currently aligned, the Big East from 2005 to 2013 will go down in history as arguably the toughest conference in the country’s collegiate basketball scene. The pride I feel as a graduate of the university is palpable to anyone who encounters me – notwithstanding church events and tennis matches as a coach at a local high school, I have been wearing nothing but Cardinal gear for the past year.
2012 was a soaring year for Cardinal athletics. From the numerous Big East championships won across the program to keeping Charlie Strong as head coach of football to being invited to the ACC to winning the Sugar Bowl in striking fashion to having a fabulous season in basketball, I’m not sure what else I could have asked for as a fan. Sure, playing for a national championship in football would have been nice, but I’m confident that rosy scenario will someday arise and I don’t believe any fan could possibly be disappointed with Charlie Strong & Co.’s success thus far.
And let’s not forget about academics. When West Virginia was chosen to join the Big 12, I think it’s fair to say the decision was based solely on the Mountaineers’ earned status as a football powerhouse. In contrast, UofL’s unanimous selection as a future member of the Atlantic Coast Conference was purely a decision made with all facets of the university’s attributes in mind. Everyone knows our athletic programs and facilities are top notch, but keep in mind that the ACC, much like the Big Ten, would not allow any school to enter its ranks unless it saw something tangible and obvious in the academic reputation of the institution.
When Florida State was added to their ranks, detractors complained that FSU’s academics were not strong enough to warrant admission. This sentiment has been repeated about UofL and, of course, I take offense to it. We have a Top 100 law school, a respected medical school always pushing the envelope, a business school which receives accolades on a yearly basis and an undergraduate program dedicated to a vast plethora of academic programs. The university’s footprint is seen throughout the commonwealth and we are well represented across the nation in business, research and academia.
What the ACC saw in Florida State is akin to what it now sees in UofL – the trajectory of the university’s academics are on the rise and rising fast. While not at the AAU level (besides, the AAU’s wheels of adding member universities is arguably much slower than those of the judicial system), Louisville will soon become associated with consortiums and programs alongside institutions like Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia. That association and willingness to share academic success and research opportunities with all ACC members partially strengthened FSU’s reputation and no doubt Dr. James Ramsey kept his university eye on the ACC for this reason.
There is a reason there were all kinds of rumors and reports that we had an invite “in hand” to the Big 12 but were not acting on it. It’s one thing to say that a source believes something might happen, but to say that an invite was already extended and the ball was in our court is a whole ‘nother beast. Personally, I believe Dr. Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich had agreed early on that the ACC would be the better body to associate with, and with time and continued diligence on our part, that invite would come.
But back to the major event ahead of us. The NCAA tournament is perhaps the most widely known event in America, save the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby. We have already proved that our football program was indeed worthy of the ACC’s glance and we have shown that our basketball legacy is strong enough to be included with the likes of Duke and North Carolina. However, on the biggest stage in America in the same timeframe as our invite to our soon-to-be new conference, winning the tourney will blow the roof off every building in Louisville. It’s that big of a situation here in Kentucky.
Nothing else matters right now. The banter with Kentucky fans, the arguments from detractors, the long-positioned monkey of Big East football on our backs, the unspoken title of Little Brother, the association with “poor and backward” Appalachia – none of it matters. Of course, those things have never really mattered to many of us living in the Bluegrass State, but I think it’s safe to say nothing else has mattered less that those do right now.
The Road to the Final Four should be tread with a determination unlike any other, and I know Rick Pitino, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Stephan Van Treese, Kevin Ware, Luke Hancock, Montezl Harrell and everyone associated with basketball team has it in them. Every indicator points to the events of the 2012-13 season as the Year of the Cardinals.
This has been a long time in the making, my friends. Perhaps I am more biased than the next guy, but living in the City of Louisville and seeing and experience all it has to offer makes me fully believe we are an idea whose time has finally come and will continue to come to many around the country.
Go get ‘em Cards. Represent your fine university, represent your big city and represent your upstanding identities. Win or lose, this is a special time in Louisville. Good things come to those who wait, but success comes quicker to those who wait and plan and execute. This. Is. Our. Year.]