Rumors began circulating late last week that UConn would be returning to the Big East. Rumors like these had been floating on the inter webs for as long as the new Big East began play in 2014. While sensible from a basketball standpoint, it never seemed possible given the Huskies commitment to football.
UConn’s basketball fortunes had slid precipitously since winning the 2014 men’s title. Truth is, that title was as fluky as any we’ve seen. The Kevin Ollie era was a train wreck and Danny Hurley took over a program, that despite 4 titles in 15 years, needed a reboot.
As football drove them to the AAC, it never was a good fit for basketball. The AAC has schools with strong hoops pedigrees but none of them were ever as good as UConn nor were any a natural rival. Couple that with a terrible bottom of the league, apathy set in for the men’s program and while the women’s team was still as strong as ever, Gene Auriemma was pining for a return to the Big East. It remains to be seen if UConn can be an elite program like they were under Jim Calhoun, but a move to the Big East makes it more likely.
Money-wise, UConn takes a step back but exposure will be greater for them. The fan base, the basketball portion of it, are pumped. An arena that saw attendance slump is far likelier to be filled as classic rivals return. Selling kids on playing local opponents versus East Carolina helps as well. For hoops, there is no downside. As for football, well, they’ve been the worst program in the nation the last two years. Would staying in the American correct that at some point? I’m not sure the ceiling for UConn football and things get harder moving forward.
The concern amongst some fans of Big East schools is, UConn would bolt as soon as a Big XII or ACC came calling. I don’t disagree with that. I don’t think that should be a concern. Truth is, every league member would bolt if they get that offer. The ACC isn’t adding UConn in the near future. I believe the Big XII will expand sooner than later but it’s not going to be UConn. I think this argument is a non-starter.
Ultimately, this is good for UConn Olympic sports and the Big East. While UConn has scuffled the last half decade, they’re still a national brand. Basketball put them on the map. Basketball put the Big East on the map. It makes too much sense. The league keeps its round-robin schedule as it expands to 20 games. The 20 game conference schedule matches what other leagues are doing. The fit is natural and one league expansion that makes sense.