On Wednesday, there was a meeting of the University of Connecticut board of trustees. Amongst the items on their docket: Addressing the invitation to join the Big East that was extended to UConn after the Big East school presidents voted to approve said invitation earlier in the week.
The invitation was approved, and UConn president Susan Herbst signed the contract/invitation between the two parties. It’s official: The University of Connecticut will be joining the Big East.
As UConn is a public school — and it should be noted, the only public school amongst the Big East’s membership — the contract between the conference and the university is a public document. Thanks to the Hartford Courant (and thanks to @brewcity77 for pointing it out to me), we have some key details as to what will be required of the Huskies as they join the league and continue to be a member. We might know a heck of a lot more after Thursday’s press conference at Madison Square Garden, but for now, we know some important points.
#1 — Connecticut’s entry date to the league is still up in the air but they have some wiggle room.
It’s much too late for UConn to join the Big East for the 2019-20 school year. Schedules and so forth are already set for fall sports, and to a certain extent, winter and spring sports. The expectation is that Connecticut will become an official member of the Big East in all sports that the league offers on July 1, 2020. However, if the American Athletic Conference makes things difficult for the Huskies, as has been reported in places that they will, UConn can push their entry to the Big East as late as July 1, 2022.
Officially, the AAC requires a $10 million exit fee as well as 27 months notice. 27 months notice from right now would be roughly August 2021. If the AAC makes them wait the full stretch, then the Big East has allowed for that possibility with the window going to summer 2022.
#2 — The Big East has set some financial requirements.
First, the Big East is requiring Connecticut to pay the league $3.5 million as an entry fee “at least two business days” before officially joining the league. Odds are that payment will be made pretty much as soon as the university settles up with the AAC, so it’s not like we need to worry about it all that much.
The bigger item is the exit fees that Connecticut has agreed to pay if it comes to that.
If Connecticut opts to leave the Big East in the first six years after joining the league, they will owe the Big East — and this is not a typo — $30 million. Yes, that’s right, nearly 10 times the payment that they’re making to join the league. For six years. If Connecticut finds something that they believe to be a better home for their athletics in the first six years, the Big East will extract a punitive price, even if the lawyers get involved and negotiate it down.
For years seven through 10, the exit fee drops to “only” $15 million. After that, it drops to $10 million, the same fee that UConn is paying to leave the AAC. However, while that drops UConn to the same exit fee as their old home after a decade in their new home, it’s still a higher price than the current 10 members would pay to leave.
Here’s a screen shot of the actual contract agreement and the wording of why the Big East is exacting a higher price from UConn:
This is kind of interesting. The Big East worries that UConn's FBS football program "could, as it has in the past, create a misalignment of interest with other members."— Alex Putterman (@AlexPutterman) June 26, 2019
With that in mind, UConn has agreed to pay a higher-than-usual withdrawal fee if it ever leaves the league. pic.twitter.com/QhF3zOU1y1
Yes, this very clearly outlines that Connecticut, at least for now, has no plans to eliminate their football team, or at the very least, has no plans to stop playing football at the Bowl Subdivision level.
This is not good, and I’m not in favor of it.
However, the exit fee structure does make me feel a little bit better about it. If, for example, the SEC and the Big Ten collapse from their current 14 member size as every conference over 12 members has done within a decade so far in the history of college sports, and whatever new conference gets created from the departing members wants to invite Connecticut, the Big East is going to collect a major windfall of cash.
I’m not in favor of this, but I do like that Commissioner Val Ackerman is well aware of the risk involved in allowing UConn to keep their FBS team alive while being a member of the Big East.
#3 — Val Ackerman dropped the ban hammer.
This might be the most important part of the agreement, and it’s reduced to a one sentence note in the Courant’s article.
And I quote:
The deal also prevents UConn from participating in a Power 5 conference in football.
That’s participating, not leaving. They are banned from parking their football team in the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac 12, or Big 12 while a member of the Big East. They can leave for one of those conferences — if they’re willing to pay the $30 million, of course — but they can’t just put the football team there as an affiliate member, cash football checks, and throw the financial balance of the league into disarray.
This is really more of a situation where the Big East created a legalized written down version of a situation that essentially already exists in practice. If one of those five leagues wanted UConn, they’d be there right now. Those leagues obviously do not want the Huskies, and thus they’re making the play that makes the most sense for them to better their situation. Even while UConn is making the only move that makes sense for them at this point, Val Ackerman and the rest of the Big East brain trust created protections for the league.
I still don’t like that Connecticut will have an FBS football team while existing as a member of the Big East. I’m never going to like it. I’m going to continually ridicule the program while it flops around like a fish out of water. However, I can make peace with the fact that Val Ackerman struck the best possible deal with Connecticut that the Big East was going to get while the Huskies still play FBS football. She made all possible considerations and protected the other 10 members of the league as best as possible. As has always been the case since she was hired as commissioner, Val Ackerman has put the Big East in a situation to benefit as much as possible. I don’t know if the Big East is where it is today — specifically being in position to dictate terms to Connecticut but in general as well — without the guidance and leadership of Val Ackerman.
Bravo to her.
And now we wait for the news conference at Madison Square Garden to see what other information there is to learn about this agreement. I don’t know if there’s much more to learn, but I know that UConn’s leadership was tight lipped after the board of trustees meeting out of respect for the Big East. We’ll see what happens.
Welcome back, Connecticut.