Friar Basketball

UConn to the Big East Makes Sense, Feels Terrible

Hurley Waiving New Haven Register

For the past six years the rebranded Big East has sold itself as a group of like-minded, basketball-centric schools. Football programs need not apply.

The billions of dollars college football generates has taken over college athletics and brought the Big East to its knees in 2012. A decade of football programs jumping ship to the Big 10 and ACC ultimately left the Big East with a nonsensical, disjointed, and ultimately embarrassing combination of schools left over from the gridiron scrapheap.

Let’s not forget just how bleak things looked in 2012. The Big East, trying to keep its head above water in the face of a tidal wave, added six schools in a two-year span, capped off by the acquisitions of (drumroll) East Carolina and Tulane, with Navy as a football-only participant.

As those schools were arriving, the future of then-Big East member Connecticut was less than certain. From the USA Today in November 2012:

With Maryland leaving the ACC, there has been strong speculation that Connecticut will be the next to leave the Big East.

UConn President Susan Herbst declined comment Wednesday when asked directly if UConn would leave the Big East for the ACC should an invitation be issued.

Herbst also would not comment on discussions with the ACC or say when a decision might be made.

“I don’t know when the realignment ends or how it settles,” she said. “But I think we really just have to focus on students, and then everything will be OK.”

If UConn does leave, the Big East is still on target to have 12 football members in 2014, just not the same ones as it will have in 2013, when the new Big East debuts.

Boise State and San Diego State, currently in the Mountain West, are set to join for football only starting in 2013, anchoring the Big East’s new West Division. Also on schedule to join next season are current C-USA members Southern Methodist, Houston, Memphis and Central Florida.

UConn must have felt as though they were in a decent position at the time. When major conferences are scooping up the likes of Rutgers and you won the Big East’s football title twice in the previous five seasons, it must feel inevitable that your number will eventually be called (especially in a top-30 TV market).

Connecticut has been sitting by the phone ever since. The results on the gridiron, and to the athletic department’s bottom line, have been brutal.

After the “Catholic 7” basketball schools split from whatever was left of the Big East’s football programs in 2013, UConn took up residence in the new American Conference.

Their football record in the American? 18-55, including a 1-11 finish in 2018 in which their only victory came in a shootout against The Fighting Greshes of URI.

The only thing more distressing in Storrs has been the financial hit the athletic program has taken. In 2018, the school spent $81 million on athletics and generated just $40 million, resulting in questions of whether Connecticut will eventually have to cut some of its athletic programs.

Which leads us to this weekend. Several media outlets are reporting that UConn’s return to the Big East (in all sports, but football) is all but a done deal, pending approval from the existing Big East schools. UConn would re-join the Big East prior to the 2020-21 season.

The timing is interesting in one regard. UConn stopped receiving payouts from the current Big East schools this year for the split that took place six years ago.

As part of the settlement, the basketball-only schools kept the Big East name and Madison Square Garden for its conference championship, while the leftover football schools were compensated handsomely. The football schools reportedly kept roughly $100 million of the $110 million left over from previous exit fees, entry fees, and money earned during the NCAA tournament.

And now it appears as though they want back in.

The move makes sense for the Big East on the basketball court. After seeing what Dan Hurley was able to build at URI, he seems to be a perfect candidate to return the Huskies to national prominence. He is a terrific recruiter and his URI teams were tenacious defensively.

The league can transition to a 20-game conference schedule, and while the Big East Tournament has seen tremendous attendance figures (averaging nearly 19,000 fans the past two years), Connecticut fans pack the Garden and provide insurance that the building will remained jammed — critical as the ACC and Big 10 have made no secret of their desire to take over the Garden in March.

Of course, there is the television money — which should probably head any list. Fox and the Big East signed a 12-year $500 million agreement in 2013, with the potential to see that number jump to $600 million if the league were to expand from ten schools to 12. The basketball-only schools likely never would have split with the football schools had Fox Sports 1 not been looking for programming six years ago.

Now halfway through that deal, Big East members may view a re-energized Connecticut program as a key selling point when negotiations for the next deal kick off. Four national championships the past twenty years certainly bring cache.

The reconfigured Big East has seen Villanova win two of the last four national championships, Xavier reach the Elite 8 one year and earn a one seed in another, Creighton boast the National Player of the Year, Butler advancing past the first round of the NCAAs four years in a row (including a Sweet 16 berth), and Providence and Seton Hall turning into tournament regulars.

Still, the perception exists that the Big East is a one-team league with a bunch of good, not great programs. It’s harder for a ten-team league to make a dent in March, and this past spring wasn’t kind to the Big East’s perception after forgettable showings in the NCAA tournament and last week’s NBA Draft.

Between the television contract and the clinging to MSG, there’s so much at stake for the Big East that it makes sense to bring in reinforcements. Still, the addition of Connecticut would make the one-for-all-basketball-is-our-lifeblood mantra the Big East has promoted the past six years feel far more shallow.

It makes all sorts of sense from a business perspective, but for long-time supporters of the Big East this feels like capitulation. The league freed itself from football, but will always have to react to it.

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar


  1. Derec Lamendola

    June 23, 2019 at 3:53 am

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  3. Irish Spectre

    July 3, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Perhaps contrary to what it might like to think about itself or aspire to, UConn is NOT a football school, NOT EVEN REMOTELY. Heck, UConn didn’t even rise to Div. 1 until the early 2000’s, and, while it might’ve had a modestly successful year or two after the Big East became seriously compromised by true football schools’ departures, it has been abysmal in the AAC, only a mid-tier conference itself. UConn does have a basketball tradition, however, and as much as it’s a concession by the Big East to be taking UConn back, it’s bound to be a favorable move for the conference, though it might make Coach Cooley’s recruiting job that much more challenging.

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