Cards' Move to Big East has been a Home Run

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This is Part III of a three-part series based on Louisville.com's recent conversation with Tom Jurich, Vice President and Director of Athletics for the University of Louisville. Columnist Ron Steiner conducted the interview, which covered a variety of topics including expansion of the Cards' football stadium and U of L's successful entry into the Big East Conference.

Q. What's the status of the expansion of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, which is planned for completion by the 2009 season?

Mr. Jurich: Right now, it's tied up in the Legislature (such projects require governmental approval), so there's not a whole lot we can do on this /files/storyimages/on many aspects of it. But, we can continue to raise money, sell tickets and sell suites. The loge seats (to be located between the two decks on the east side) continue to be very, very popular. Those are going to be great buys for our fans - they'll almost be like having your own suite. The new suites are selling very fast. We haven't really emphasized selling season tickets in the new upper deck, yet. We've been focusing on the other categories so far. We are moving forward.

Q. This has been quite a turning point for Louisville's golf programs with two Big East titles, two Coach of the Year awards (for men's coach Mark Crabtree and women's coach Kelly Rothberg) and the opening of the new Tom Musselman Center for U of L at the Cardinal Club. What will all of that mean for the program?

Mr. Jurich: First of all, the Musselman Center is named after someone who is incredibly important to our athletic department. Tommy Musselman is certainly an icon in this community. We thank him for all of his generosity, which has come in many forms. He gives to our program every way he can. I know our young athletes really look up to him, and he has great relationships with our coaches. It's been nice to be able to put a building like that in place in a first-class country club setting. What a facility ? it's truly phenomenal. We're going to be able to reap a lot of benefits from it, because it gives us so many advantages. It provides such a great teaching center that will be effective even in bad weather (indoor putting green and heated driving bays). As we continue to have success, yes, I think we can develop national contenders in both programs. The other Big East teams really liked what they saw when they visited our new facility last month, but the great thing is to see how our student-athletes have reacted to it. They can't wait to take full advantage of the new setup.

Q. The spring football week/files/storyimages/was quite a success, especially with the record crowd of about 28,000 fans. What's your assessment of the event?

Mr. Jurich: Steve (Kragthorpe) has really worked hard to cultivate interest, especially from the former players. He wants them to be a big part of this football program. As we become more successful, it's easier to get them to come back. I know Steve and his staff have really reached out to make sure that happens. It was great to see that crowd, too, on such a beautiful evening. Also, we had a lot of the recruits in the stands, as well as quite a few kids who signed with us this year. I really appreciated the way Steve set up the game (offense vs. defense) and made it an even contest. That made it much more exciting because the players were playing for something. Who would have guessed we'd go to overtime in a spring game? I like seeing that much more than seeing the No. 1 units from the No. 2 units. It's much more competitive. You could see the defense was out there playing with a fiery spirit. The whole team played hard, and I think they got a lot more out of the game because of the format. It was a great effort, and the coaches were very pleased with what they saw.

Q. Are there any notable developments in the Big East? Do you think the league understood what it was getting when U of L joined the group?

Mr. Jurich: Actually, we're getting ready to head down to Ponte Vedra (Fla.) for our annual meetings. There are always a lot of good things that come out of those sessions. I know this, joining the league has been a terrific experience for all of us. It's been a big plus for our state and this whole region. It's been wonderful for the city of Louisville as well as for the university. Yes, I think (commissioner) Mike Tranghese knew what we would bring to the conference. He saw that we were well underway and that we had a plan. When we were trying to sell him on us, that's what I wanted to show him. He needed to see how we were going to become a solid program in 23 sports, not just in a couple.

Q.Joining the Big East has provided a major step up as far as competition goes. What does that mean for U of L?

Mr. Jurich: It raises the bar, which is great for our coaches, players and fans because you always want to be aiming for higher goals. It's tougher to compete, but it's also more rewarding. As a result, this has been a record-setting year. We've had nearly a dozen teams advance to the NCAAs and a few others were near misses. Field hockey didn't do as well as the players had hoped, and they still finished up ranked No. 12 in the nation. And, of course, we're adding women's lacrosse (a spring sport), which will be coached by Kellie Young. She'll do a terrific job; it's just going to be a matter of time for her. She left the No.6-ranked team in the country (at James Madison which is No. 6 again this year). She is a very solid coach who can recruit and knows how to build a program. It's going to take awhile because the Big East is a very difficult league. But that's what we want.

Q. What do you think about the NCAA's plans to limit text messaging in recruiting?

Mr. Jurich: There definitely need to be some handles on it. I think it was overused and I think it was abused. Overall, I think you have to have limits. Once the NCAA decides what those limits should be, everybody will be big winners. I don't think it will be totally eliminated, but I think it will be scaled down quite a bit. It's become a huge burden on some of the prospects who have been getting 5,000 or 6,000 text messages a month. That's too much. It can become costly, and you have to go to school and do your homework some time.

Q. What's ahead for next year?

Mr. Jurich: I think we can be better in every sport. That's what we strive for. Whether we are or not, that's up to the coaches and athletes. We're in great shape. Now, I'm not sitting here predicting we'll go 12-1 and go to the Orange Bowl again, but I think we can have a darn good football team. I think our men's basketball team, the women's hoops team and volleyball will be better than a year ago. We can pretty much say that across the board. I know our men's soccer team is going to make a big jump now that coach Ken Lolla has his fingerprints on the program.

Q. Many people say the spirit on the U of L campus has improved dramatically in recent years in part because of the Cards' successes. You've been here since 1997; have you noticed the change?

Mr. Jurich: Yes, and that's exactly how an athletic department can help a university. In our case, our program has been an incredible asset for branding the university both nationally and internationally. It's been a big pride factor for our students and alumni. That's something that's hard to measure, but it's a real plus for the school. President Ramsey really understands that role for athletics. That's why it's so good to work here.

NOTE: Steiner is a sports columnist for Louisville.com who has covered U of L sports for the past 23 years. He also appears on the statewide Red & Blue Review television show (weekly on Insight Ch. 2) with host Garry Gupton and guest Darrell Bird of the Cat's Pause. Steiner can be reached by e-mail at r.steiner@insightbb.com.


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