On Friday, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports posted a blubbering love note to the University of Louisville athletic department that would have seemed more at home on the "letters" page of Tiger Beat magazine as a 14-year-old girl's tribute to Justin Timberlake. While I can't argue much with the compliments heaped upon the Cards (their run has been quite impressive), I would only humbly submit that such breathless hugs-n-kisses should remain the realm of 14 year old girls and not BIG IMPORTANT NATIONAL WRITERS who went to Missouri, the journalistic equivalent of Harvard. But more on that later.
I don't have a problem with UL's success. Good for them. What I didn't care much for were the periphery swipes that Forde saw fit to take at the West Virginia University Mountaineers - namely their move to the Big 12 in late 2011. Forde has embarked upon an impressive journey of revisionist history that suggests the Cards have emerged from the Great Realignment Wars of 2011 as the victors and silly 'ole double-dealin' WVU is stuck in the yucky Big 12.
But before we get into the meat, a quick bit of background on Forde. What many folks who know him only as a BIG IMPORTANT NATIONAL WRITER may not realize is that he is a huge Louisville homer. Enormous. The guy spent 17 years of his career with the Louisville Courier-Journal before heading off to ESPN where he made a national name for himself. During this entire time he has remained a resident of da 'ville. Furthermore he is a business partner with UL head basketball coach Rick Pitino, having co-authored Rebound Rules: The Art Of Success with Pitino in 2010.
So if you didn't know it already, bear in mind that when Forde sits down to write a love note on cardinal-scented paper like he did last week, he must first lay his red, black and white pom-poms on the table.
Having established that, let's strap on our blue and gold gas masks and delve into the substance of Forde's steaming pile of Louisville love.
In late October 2011, Louisville officials were stunned by the latest conference realignment news: West Virginia was joining the Big 12.
Really Pat? Stunned? Because as I remember it, by the time it happened WVU's selection to the Big 12 wasn't a big surprise. Following Texas A&M's bolt to the SEC and the subsequent need for the conference to select another team to balance divisions, there was no shortage of palace intrigue regarding who would get Mike Slive's magical golden ticket. The Mountaineers were seen by many as a serious candidate but in the end lost out to Missouri and superior television markets.
As such the 'Eers were seen by many as one of the the best team standing when the Big 12 came calling and once the process worked itself out their selection wasn't seen as a huge shock.
In fact now that I think about it Pat, the only shock I seem to remember was a scheduled WVU press conference to announce the move being put on hold for a couple days due to the back-channel dealings of UL supporter Senator Mitch McConnell.
As the Big East disintegrated, the Cardinals had been angling for a spot in the Big 12 and privately believed they had it locked up. Then West Virginia outflanked Louisville late in the process and landed the only spot the league was willing to offer.
In a related story, Alabama "outflanked" Notre Dame in the BCS Title game, WVU "outflanked" Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl and The United States "outflanked" Iraq in the First Gulf War. Forde's characterization of what happened is laughable. We're in full homer mode kids!
At the time, this was disastrous news in Louisville.
Today, it's turned out to be a great miss for the Cardinals.
And the Big 12 must have massive buyer's remorse.
Do I even dignify this with comment? (types something mean) (deletes it) (types more) (deletes it).
Let's move on.
And as it turned out, the ACC was a far better destination in terms of geography, basketball prestige and academic neighborhood. It was the greatest consolation prize in Louisville athletic history.
That's a great point, Pat. We all know that "basketball prestige" ranks high on the list of significant factors in the revenue generation potential of a conference partnership. That's why the basketball behemoth Big East has done so well.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's first year in the Big 12 has been bumpy. The Mountaineers went 7-6 after a 5-0 start in football. The basketball team was awful, going 13-19 overall and 0-15 against the top 50 teams in the Sagarin Ratings. Women's basketball was a non-factor at 17-14.
Can't argue here. Moving from a Big East schedule to a real schedule with real teams was difficult and the basketball team flat out sucked. It is what it is.
Along the way, the school discovered that, gee, being more than 800 miles from the rest of the league is hard. In February, West Virginia requested some scheduling breaks in football and men's basketball to deal with the travel demands. Everyone saw that coming when the move was first being pondered. No one paused long enough to reconsider.
This was the part that irked me the most. Forde seems to suggest that WVU had a choice. Like there were a variety of life rafts floating around the sea as the S.S. Big East plunged to the deep and dumb ole WVU just jumped at the wrong one. Never mind that a couple paragraphs ago he was lamenting the Card's predicament because they missed said life raft.
To make it better, he goes on to trumpet the move to the ACC as some sort of brilliant coup by the UL leadership, ignoring the fact that it was actually a response to Maryland being gobbled up by the Big 10. To his credit, he admits that the ACC was willing to "swallow hard on the academic profile and take it on athletics." The very thing the league had no interest in doing a few months earlier in the case of the Mountaineers. To suggest this was the result of great strategy by UL and not simple circumstance is an exercise in disingenuous fact creation.
This speaks to to my two primary problems with this entire steaming pile of homerism of a column. First, Forde uses 20/20 hindsight as a means to glorify the job UL has done - particularly with realignment. He takes an exceedingly small sample of time - the past few months - and declares the war won. And since there was a winner, there had to be a loser, and in this case he decides that loser is West Virginia. Never mind that the Mountaineers have tethered their athletics futures to a pair of the biggest names in college football in Oklahoma and Texas and never mind that the Big 12's television deal pays out approximately $3 million more per year to member institutions than that of the ACC. Never mind that if Maryland is able to escape their $50 million buyout clause the sharks will come swimming to the Atlantic Coast and UL could once again find themselves on a sinking ship. Louisville has had a great few months, so they win.
Second, there are two Pat Fordes. There is Pat Forde the Louisville fan and Pat Forde the award winning columnist who does some damn fine work. Unfortunately they share the same header and a large majority of fans are unable to distinguish between the two. So what happened is America read this thing over the weekend and thought since PAT FORDE BIG IMPORTANT NATIONAL WRITER opined on it, so it must be true. And since he painted WVU as the bad guy, that's probably true, too. PAT FORDE BIG IMPORTANT NATIONAL WRITER wouldn't lie to us.
And there's the only difference between this poor excuse for a column and the tounge-in-cheek Tiger Beat letter I mentioned earlier. Breathless love letters are what we expect from 14 year old girls. We've got a little higher standard for BIG IMPORTANT NATIONAL WRITERS.
Maybe they should keep that in mind.