It is being reported that UConn will be receiving an offer to join the Big East, and they’re gonna take it. This comes after a year in which UConn athletics lost $40 million on athletics.
I can confirm that UConn is awaiting official invitation to the Big East and a formal announcement of the move is forthcoming. First reported by @DigSportsDesk— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) June 22, 2019
UConn football likely lands in another conference or goes independent, starting in 2020 season.
UConn’s last football team was 1-11, and had one of the worst defenses in the history of college football. Their men’s basketball team is a traditional power, but finished ninth, and with a losing record last season. The women’s team continues to dominate the AAC, but has had a championship drought since 2016. So, in a way, they’ve slowed down too.
The point is UConn athletics have been struggling against their standards since joining the AAC.
Their response to fix on-field performance and get back in the black is to leave the AAC, which has high travel costs, and few traditional rivals. Unfortunately, playing a team like ECU, or Tulane has not drawn interest for UConn fans.
By going back to the Big East, UConn will play teams their fans are excited to watch them compete against, and cut down on their travel costs.
It’s also worth pointing out that UConn was not happy with the new AAC media deal. The Huskies were concerned that the new deal would, “Disrupt the lifestyle” of UConn fans. Essentially, the administration was concerned that they would no longer have games shown on SNY, a local New York sports station. They were also concerned about the emphasis the new deal puts on streaming games, on ESPN+.
This means that UConn also feels leaving for the Big East will lead to better exposure for their programs.
It does, however, leave the football program out to dry. The Big East consists of schools that only have FCS, not FBS football. That’s actually why UConn, and a few other AAC programs, ended up in this conference during realignment.
Teams like Villanova that do have football programs compete at the FCS level, and in a separate conference. So, where does that leave UConn football?
The AAC won’t have UConn as a football only member. They’ll look for a new conference, maybe the MAC, or C-USA. However, neither of them have an open spot, nor have they indicated any desire to add UConn as a football only member. It’s also worth noting UMass left the MAC over wanting to be a football only member and now operate as and Independet.
CBS is saying the AAC is expected to stay at 11 for basketball. If that's true, that basically rules out "promoting" anybody from Conference USA to replace UConnhttps://t.co/WeQDgieitD pic.twitter.com/xly9QnovY0— The Other Matt Brown (@MattSBN) June 22, 2019
Being an Independent is UConn’s best option for football, if they want to stay at the FBS level. Being an independent would be a struggle. They’d need to schedule all 12 games, find a way to get broadcast nationally, and recruit New England without the benefit of a conference or an on-campus stadium.
The other option is to go back to the FCS, like Idaho recently did. If they were to do that, they could potentially join the CAA, and play teams like Rhode Island and New Hampshire every season. The Patriot League would also be an option, playing against teams like Fordham and Georgetown.
They’ll make less money, but the program would also cost less, which could be a good thing. If they cut expenses more than they lose revenue it is a net gain for the football program, financially.
Questions don’t end at the UConn football program, however. The AAC now has a question, how do you replace UConn?
The first thing the AAC will do, is look at programs that make more geographic sense. The conference will probably also see losing UConn as a benefit for the football side of operations. Everyone’s strength of schedule just got better. Without UConn football, Mike Aresco’s Power 6 claims are more legitimate.
UConn brought legitimacy to basketball within the conference, especially the women’s game. So, whoever the conference adds, they’ll probably be looking to make sure it is a strong basketball program. If not, it shows the AAC is happy being a football first conference.
Who are some teams that would make sense to add?
Adding the Army-Navy game would be awesome for the conference. Army is a program getting their football legs under them, with Jeff Monken at head coach. Army also comes with a strong fan-base, and strong viewing numbers.
There’s some issues here, though. For the most part, Army doesn’t make sense geographically. They’re also terrible at basketball, and wouldn’t lend any help there. They could be added as a football only member, similar to Navy.
Marshall is another team that would make sense. They are a C-USA team, like many current AAC teams before the last realignment. They’re not too far away geographically. The Thundering Herd have a little bit of history, and are always a solid team. Marshall also had the 16th largest average attendance increase from 2017 to 2018. That was good for an average attendance of 24,063.
Not to mention the basketball team is usually near the top of C-USA.
Middle Tennessee State makes sense for similar reasons. They just played for the C-USA championship, and have proven to be competitive in basketball. They also would make an excellent geographic match-up for Memphis.
However, their attendance numbers are weak. Memphis might also not want them in the conference, to keep Tennessee easier for them to recruit.
Appalachian State makes sense for similar reasons. They’d be a huge upgrade in terms of football. They’ve been a top Sun Belt program for the past few seasons. Attendance numbers are near 22,000 a game, and they make geographic sense.
Unfortunately, Appalachian State wouldn’t help basketball all that much, and ECU wouldn’t like helping them recruit in the Carolinas.
From there, a few other teams could make the argument to join the AAC. UAB has been impressive since their return to FBS football, but they don’t have a long record of success. The Blazers are investing in their program though and will have a new football stadium soon. They also have been historically solid as basketball program.
Arkansas State, and Western Kentucky have longer track records of success at the FBS level. Neither carry the pedigree as a basketball program that UConn had, though. They’re also only alright fits, from a geographic standpoint.
If none of these options seems all that appealing, the AAC could simply operate with only 11 programs. They could go without a divisions, again. They could also have the East division play with only 5 teams for a few seasons.
No matter what, the AAC needs to make a decision on what it wants to emphasize. Its decision could have a big impact on how the conference is perceived, especially as it relates to their Power 6 campaign.
For UConn, they’re making the best decision for their programs. They are a basketball school, that is finally putting emphasis on that. Now, football needs to figure out its future.