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Duke AD Kevin White on expansion: "Louisville clearly was the best option"

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Kevin White has been Duke's athletic director since 2008. Credit: DUKE UNIVERSITY

Before Duke took down yet another top-five opponent in Ohio State, athletic director Kevin White gave a few thoughts on the ACC's recent expansion and the future of the league going forward. Here's a Q & A.

What was it about Louisville that made it the best fit?

"They have a national program. They’re really good in not only the high-profile sports but also the Olympic sports. They’re good in everything. They won an awful lot of championships in the Big East. They’ve invested really well, they’ve got great facilities, they’re really committed. They’ll bring an energy and vitality to the league and be highly competitive."

Did Maryland’s departure make it important to find a viable athletic replacement?

"I would say it was a decision driven by institutional quality in every way. Louisville is an emerging academic public institution. Its profile seems to have been enhanced an awful lot since I was around them in the Big East (White was the athletic director at Notre Dame from 2000-2008). They’ve invested well. It’s a school that has come a long way in the past two decades."

What do you think about further expansion?

"I don’t see it. I think this was something that had to happen. We needed to react to the marketplace thoughtfully, but, at the same time, quickly. We needed to return to normalcy, and I think we’ve done that. I think it shows a pretty strong commitment with the presidents and the chancellors of the ACC and with Commissioner John Swofford to get us to continue to find our way back to preeminent status. That’s the end game here. This has been a really great conference, and we’re trying to put ourselves right back in that position. I think you’ll see us do that."

Are you concerned anyone else could leave the ACC?

"I’m really not. Based on conversations the presidents and chancellors have had, I just don’t see that as a high probability. Everyone is locked in. What we have here is pretty special. It’s a great mix of institutions, public, private and we have the entire East Coast from Boston to Miami. We picked up a couple of other great institutions, most recently Pitt and Syracuse and then Notre Dame and finally Louisville, all of which have national reputations athletically. And all of them, in their own way, are really, really good schools. They fit the culture of the ACC.

"I think we made a really good acquisition. We made a smart acquisition that’s going to make us better. That’s the idea here. As we compete on the courts and on the field, in the pool, on the track and everywhere else, we compete league to league. So, you look for ways to get better. We just made ourselves better. I give John Swofford, first and foremost, all the credit, and I also love that our chancellors and presidents followed his lead on this and acted swiftly, but after careful study and lots of thought. They returned us back to a place where we can get back to business of, in the aggregate, getting better. That’s what we’re trying to do."  

Did you talk to anyone from Louisville in the Bahamas?

I did not. My counterpart (Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich) was not there. I’ve known Tom for almost 30 years.

Cincinnati and UConn made public pleas to get into the ACC. Was there much discussion about them?

"Every possible option was looked at pretty carefully. And Louisville clearly was the best option. We got better with Louisville, and that’s the best thing I can say."

John Swofford mentioned on the conference call that it’s “sexy” for the leagues to have their own TV networks. Do you think that’s something to ACC should pursue?

"We are pursuing it and taking a good hard look at it. I don’t know how it will play out, but we are in the early stages of that. It’s an interest area of mine, it’s an interest area of (Duke associate AD) Jon (Jackson’s), so we are working on that at Duke as well just to be a good partner with the ACC. I’d love to see us do a really deep dive and explore the possibility of whether that makes sense for the ACC.

"You bring in another really strong, this is an expression I use in my class, another really strong intercollegiate franchise, you have an opportunity to do creative things like create channels and networks. I think Louisville gives us the potential to that in another market."

It was also mentioned on the call that the Louisville market had led college basketball in ratings for the past 10 years.

"At the same time, they’re a national institution in a couple sports. And the one you just mentioned, they clearly are. Is there anybody as good as the ACC in college basketball at this moment? I think you could have said that before the acquisition of Louisville. Now with Louisville, you’ve got to be kidding. We’re in a preeminent position. It’s great to be there. And I think Louisville will continue to become a major player in the sport of football. They’ve really invested heavily. Their facilities are incredible. Their budget, they’re a public institution, they’re not fooling around. We did get better."

Any specific memories from your time at Notre Dame of dealing with Louisville?

"They’re really good people. They’ve got a reputation of being a really good athletics department. I’ve been around their presidents over the years, they’ve always been first-class people. And Tom Jurich is one of the best operates in our business. He’s a player. What he has done there in 15 years is nothing sort of amazing. He’s taken that program from a basketball program that was in the football business with a couple of other sports that were kind of making a little noise to now they’re good in everything. I mean, really good. They’re a full-blown, highly competitive program. In a lot of ways, they’ll rival anyone in our league across the board. And that’s good."

Do you think the fact that Louisville was unanimously accepted is a statement from the presidents that this is a strong conference?

"I do. I’m on the 4-4-4 committee (four presidents, four faculty members and four athletic directors that explore league membership issues), and I’m hearing big-time solidarity. Everybody knows what we have. What we have is a great mix of academic and athletics, it’s got a rich history in that tradition, and at the same time, we’re really competitive on the playing field."

The Big 12 has that grant-of-rights clause (essentially, if a school would choose to leave the conference, its media rights and revenue would remain with the conference for an agreed upon length of time). Would that work in the ACC?

"That’s something I think we’ve got to continue to explore."

Thanks to Kevin White for his time. 

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley