Atlantic Coast Conference leaders are scheduled to vote at 7 a.m. ET Wednesday on whether to expand, and the University of Louisville is the leading candidate to join the league, said multiple sources within the conference.
The league could decide to extend an invitation immediately to Louisville, expand to 16 members by also bringing in Connecticut and Cincinnati or table expansion for the time being and continue to study its options.
The most likely option for the ACC is to invite only Louisville, although there also is expected to be strong discussions about the conference standing pat, sources said.
"Louisville is the one that seems to have gotten the most traction," said one source before cautioning that there are "a lot of opinions and moving parts." Another source believed the vote wouldn't be called unless there was certainty in the league office that Louisville had the necessary support.
The news of the scheduled vote was first reported by David Glenn on the ACC Sports Journal website.
The ACC was rocked last week by the departure of founding member Maryland, which is leaving for the Big Ten in 2014. That leaves the league with 13 full members and Notre Dame, which will participate in all sports but football.
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Louisville, Connecticut and Cincinnati, among others, have lobbied aggressively for an ACC bid. All three schools currently belong to the Big East. Each has stressed its various strengths, from successful athletic programs, media markets, demographics and academic standing. The entire conference has scrambled for contingency plans.
Louisville is the leader, sources said, because of the overall health of its athletic department, recent success in football and men's basketball, and its strong facilities. While Cincinnati has won more league titles in football recently, its facilities aren’t as strong. UConn lags behind in both areas.
ACC sources said the need for stronger football is imperative in the decision. The league's weak level of play this year proved to be a drag on Florida State and Clemson in the BCS standings. Swapping Louisville for Maryland is, at least, a positive move.
The importance of making the ACC a viable place for FSU, Clemson and Virginia Tech – the league's three strongest programs – to compete for the upcoming playoff is imperative. If those schools don't feel that's possible, then the rest of the league fears those schools could look to join the SEC or Big 12.
Ranking the schools isn't clear cut, but sources said Louisville is the consensus choice because of the football concern, should the ACC decide to offer an invitation on Wednesday. The league also feels it can wait to decide whether to expand to 16 members, if ever, because there isn't a belief UConn and Cincinnati have other options.
North Carolina and Virginia also publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the ACC on Tuesday and said they haven't had any discussions with other conferences. There has been speculation the Big Ten was interested in both.
The Big East expanded on Tuesday, adding Tulane for all sports and East Carolina for football only. The conference is desperately trying to hold together a national consortium of schools and make itself the most viable conference outside of the stronger top five leagues. Losing Louisville would be a major blow to the Big East, but not as big if UConn and Cincinnati also left.
Either way it may have to expand again.
In the meantime, it's all eyes on the ACC early Wednesday morning.
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