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Louisville replaces Maryland in new-look ACC

After the sudden departure of Maryland 10 days ago, the ACC was left with lopsided divisions beginning in 2014.

But Wednesday morning, the ACC Council of Presidents unanimously approved Louisville as the 14th and newest full member of the conference, filling the void left by the Terrapins.

“We felt Louisville was the best fit for the Atlantic Coast Conference at this point in time in every respect,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “You see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointed up. Tremendous uptick there, tremendous energy.

“It’s always an overall fit in every respect.”

By all accounts, the Cardinals fit the athletic profile of the conference — a basketball program with 10 consecutive 20-win seasons and a football team that earned a share of the Big East title in 2011.

Holden Thorp, UNC’s chancellor and chairman of the ACC Council of Presidents, said that a deciding factor in admitting Louisville to the conference was its exciting athletic programs.

“We wanted to make the ACC as exciting a sports conference as we possibly could, and we felt Louisville did that for us the best,” Thorp said.

Louisville’s athletic revenue made it an especially attractive addition. The Cardinals’ budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year was $84.5 million, $3.1 million more than Florida State, the ACC’s biggest spender.

But even though the school matches the athletic profile of the conference, the academic profile doesn’t quite fit the bill.

All of the ACC’s 2014 membership — including Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse — rank in the top 110 of the U.S. News & World Report University Rankings. N.C. State is the lowest ranked member at 106.

But at 160, Louisville falls far below the ACC’s standard.

The other two schools widely considered to be in contention for the 14th spot in the ACC, Connecticut and Cincinnati, rank 63rd and 139th, respectively.

Still, Louisville president — and former UNC vice chancellor for finance and administration — James Ramsey, said that his university aspires to have the same kind of academic excellence found at UNC.

“One of the models that we’ve used since I’ve been president here is to emulate the commitment of academic excellence that I saw firsthand when I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” Ramsey said.

But in recent years, Louisville hasn’t measured up to the benchmark that North Carolina and other ACC schools have set.

The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate is a yearly measurement of the eligibility and retention of Division I athletes. The APR was developed to give an early indication of graduation rates. A perfect score is 1,000, and APRs less than 930 indicate that less than 50 percent of student-athletes are graduating.

Institutions with less than 50 percent graduation rates are subject to sanctions by the NCAA in the future.

Louisville’s football team had a multi-year score of 911 in 2010-11. In 2009-10, it was penalized with three scholarship reductions, when its multi-year score was 908.

All football teams in the ACC boast scores greater than 930. Duke holds the highest multi-year rate score at 989. N.C. State and Maryland have the lowest multi-year score, a composite of the previous four years, at 931.

But in men’s basketball, Louisville cleared the 930 hurdle by 35 points for a score of 965 in 2010-11.

Ramsey said Louisville is committed to improving the University’s academics.

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“Our focus at the University of Louisville is to build excellence everyday in our athletic programs and in our academic programs,” he said.

Swofford said the ACC still maintains a tradition of excellence.

“Our league was founded on a commitment of balancing academics and athletics,” he said, “and the addition of Louisville, with its aggressive approach to excel in every respect will only strengthen our conference.”

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