Jon Rothstein, who appears on CBS Sports Network programming, has a “Rothstein Files” column on the FanRag Sports Network. In his Monday morning column, item #30 was about Connecticut’s lack of interest in staying in the American Athletic Conference, titled “UConn will heavily explore joining another league in the offseason.”
The Huskies have battled injuries this season en route to a 10-12 record, but their overall cache as a program also isn’t quite what it was when they were operating in the old Big East. Kevin Ollie led UConn to a national title in 2014, but the Huskies’ brand still belongs on a bigger stage. Sources have told FanRag Sports that UConn has consistently looked into joining the Big East as a basketball only member as long as it could find another home for its football program. Other sources have stated that members of the Big East currently like the league’s double round-robin format in basketball where everyone plays each other twice and adding an 11th team could change that. A big thing to remember? The ACC will go to 20 league games during the 2019-20 season and the Big East could opt to do the same if it added the Huskies as an 11th team while keeping the double round-robin format. UConn will be better next season when it gets back Alterique Gilbert (shoulder) and Terry Larrier (ACL), but to truly return to the national scene on a high level this program may have to make a move to a more high profile league.
Well, I did like the part about the AAC being a lower profile league than the Big East, I’ll say that much.
Back in July 2016, this exact same story kicked around, except it was in connection with the Big 12 taking the Huskies on as a football-only member, allowing them to send their other sports to a different conference. The Big 12 ultimately ended up doing nothing, leaving Connecticut stuck back in the AAC. Obviously, Connecticut has no chance of putting their football team in a different conference better than the AAC or the Big 12, because if the SEC or ACC or whoever wanted UConn, they’d be there right now. That means they’d have to find some other conference to call home for football.
But what conference out there is lower in stature than the AAC, but willing to take on Connecticut football.... without taking on Connecticut basketball, both men’s and women’s? We already know the answer is not the Mid-American Conference, because the MAC just kicked out Massachusetts football for not being a full member. Where are they going to go? Sun Belt? Conference USA? Are they really doing something valuable by putting their football team in those conferences just to play basketball in a better conference? Aren’t they just better off shuttering the football program in order to get into the Big East?
It’s nice that Connecticut would like to join the Big East for all of their non-football sports. (Aside: This wouldn’t be a “basketball-only” deal as Rothstein worded it. Connecticut would move all of their sports to the Big East, as they already play field hockey and women’s lacrosse there as associate members.) Any move that would allow them to enter the Big East for everything but football would require them to admit that they’re really not trying at football, though. Except they really can’t do that, not after just hiring Randy Edsall to replace Bob Diaco. They’re committed to the future of Connecticut football, and there’s nowhere for Connecticut football to go. They’re stuck.
I said it last July, and I’ll say it again: Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, the school presidents, and the school athletic directors have been fairly consistent, at least publicly, on one issue: This is a basketball focused conference. Allowing UConn to keep their football team somewhere else while doing everything else in the Big East is not keeping in line with that conference-wide focus on basketball. Maybe Big East expansion is a foregone conclusion for some point down the road. It can not and should not ever include a school that has an FBS football program.