The University of Connecticut was one of the original eight schools chosen by Dave Gavitt to form the best basketball conference in the country. They were an integral part of the Big East and currently have four national championships. Three of those were won during their long and illustrious history as a part of the Big East Conference. Before I go into why UConn should leave their current conference, we have to go back to the reason why the Big East divided in the first place.
Greed, capitalism, and television were the three factors that separated the original Big East. It started when Boston College left to join the ACC, and from that point on the conference began to dissolve. Later on, other football schools began to leave in order to chase all the football money there was to find in major power conferences. Whatever schools were able join the ACC did, and the conference added: Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pitt, and now Louisville.
I could bet anything that the athletic director of UConn, Warde Manuel, went on his hands and knees, begging for the ACC commissioner to let UConn join, but the conference had other thoughts in mind. Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville have proven to have quality football, and that's the direction the ACC wanted to move in. They already have Florida State and Clemson, and the ACC is trying to build the conference, not only to be the pinnacle of college basketball, but to someday rival the SEC or Big 12 in football. UConn's football has never really been exceptionally good, and I have to admit, the ACC made a pretty wise choice by not allowing the Huskies to join.
Out of every single team that split from the Big East, UConn is, without a doubt, the team that got screwed the most. The "Catholic Seven" got exactly what they wanted: A conference with basketball as the focal point and the ability not to be threatened by any football programs. UConn got the shaft by all major football conferences and joined the AAC (American Athletic Conference), with a lot of other teams that, essentially, had no where else to go.
One of the big differences between the AAC this year and last year is the departure of Louisville from the conference. Last year, there was, at least, some competition for future NBA first rounder Shabazz Napier to play against. The Huskies were, obviously, successful, because they won the National Championship, but they're not going to have a guard like Napier to win them six straight games in the tournament every year.
Unfortunately for UConn, their football team was embarrassing at best. They only had two wins the entire year, and only one conference win against UCF. They even had their last home game spoiled by SMU. By the way, the win against UConn was the only win the Pony Express had all year.
It is very clear that the Huskies' football program is not going to improve anytime soon. Football programs are so much harder to rebuild than basketball, because you only need one or two basketball players to change the culture and attitude of a program. Look at Providence, for example. After they signed All-Americans Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo, there was a buzz around the city that the Friars are back just because they signed two players. A year later, Providence would win the Big East Championship for the first time in twenty years. Now they are predicted to get a 5-seed in this year's NCAA Tournament. With football, you need almost a dozen recruits to change a program. UConn does not have the resources to recruit players that could play for a team in the Big 12 or SEC. It has taken Oregon almost forty years to get their football program to where it is today, and the Huskies don't have a the co-founder of Nike as an alumni to donate millions upon millions of dollars to help them have the best facilities and apparel in America.
Reasons to Depart From AAC
The reasons why the University of Connecticut should leave the conference are very obvious. This is a program that has produced NBA stars like Ray Allen, Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Kemba Walker, along with a plethora of others. They do not belong in a conference where their top opponents are Memphis or SMU. There are 11 teams in the AAC, and, at the moment, not one of them is ranked in the Top 25. In the Big East, there are currently 3 teams in the top 25 with only 10 teams in the conference. I don't care how successful UConn's football program becomes, they will always be considered a basketball school. If they want to protect the integrity of their basketball program, they will have to leave their basketball wasteland of a conference and return to the Big East, where basketball will always be the top priority. UConn is the most successful basketball program in the Northeast and they need to come home. They have history with Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, and Providence that can not possibly be replaced by any other conference. If you were a top recruit and were interested in signing with UConn, wouldn't you rather play a top ten team in Madison Square Garden at the Big East Tournament than play Tulane or Tulsa in Hartford, Connecticut? It's not rocket science. Not only will the move benefit UConn, but the Big East will also benefit from a new addition. The Big East just needs one more major basketball school to upgrade the perception of the conference, and UConn would fit perfectly. The Huskies would immediately become one of, if not, the best team in the conference with some of the top ranked teams in the country.
Not only does the idea to leave the AAC work for basketball, but it will help all the other UConn sports programs, as well. Student Athletes will be able to play teams from the Northeast, and the University of Connecticut will not have to send their field hockey team to play a game in Dallas to play SMU. Plus, UConn's hockey team is already in the Hockey East conference and they don't have to leave New England for any of their games besides Notre Dame.
But, the Big East doesn't play football, obviously. What becomes of UConn's football program?
The basketball transition for UConn to leave the AAC would be easy, but the big question would be were to put the football program. I think the UConn football program would be better in Mid-American Conference rather than the AAC. The Mid-American Conference, or MAC, is composed of 13 football schools like Northern Illinois and the University of Massachusetts, who could compete at UConn's football level in the AAC. The conference power rankings show how close these conferences are in terms of skill, because the AAC was ranked 8th by the Associated Press while the MAC was ranked 9th.
Attendance at UConn football games has been dipping for the past few years. The average attendance per game for the 2014 season was 24,000, a game and the Rentschler Field can hold about 40,000 fans. That staggering attendance is not a surprise. The Huskies have only won five games the past two seasons. The MAC presents an opportunity for UConn to win some games and get the fans involved again.
TV is what initially spurred the Big East out of control, but UConn could actually gain money from their departure from the AAC. The AAC had a television contract with ESPN and CBS worth 127 million dollars for 7 years that allows the networks to broadcast basketball and football games. The colleges in the AAC earn about 1.6 million dollars every single year for broadcasting their conferences games. The Big East has a deal with Fox Sports 1 which is worth 500 million dollars for 12 years and each team earns 5 million dollars a year. Not only would UConn make more money of off the that deal alone, but they would also gain money from the MAC's 13 million dollar contract for 13 years with ESPN.
I think this is a no brainer for the both Big East, and for UConn. I would much rather have UConn be a part of the conference than rumored additions St. Louis or Dayton. Both the Big East and UConn would benefit from the Huskies leaving their current conference and the Big East would be better than ever if the Huskies were added to the conference.