When the dust had settled with conference realignment finally coming to an end — it is over, right? — it became clear that Connecticut was on the outside looking in. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse would all be headed to the ACC with Louisville joining the league for the 2014-15 season. Even Rutgers, the school with little basketball history to speak of, is destined for the Big Ten in 2014. Only Cincinnati and South Florida, along with the Huskies, were seemingly left out in the cold without a home.
Connecticut, the school with three National Basketball Championships since 1999, is relegated to the newly formed American Athletic Conference — a combination of schools formerly hailing from the Atlantic 10, Big East, and Conference USA. It almost certainly wasn’t their ideal destination, but Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel is satisfied with the conference, he told the Associated Press:
I’ve been done (speaking of looking to transition to one of the five power conferences). If my focus is always looking outside this organization and what we’re doing, we’re not going to maintain the success that we’ve had…It’s a business problem. My concern is the stability of UConn, and what we do at UConn. We’re going to compete for national championships.
The business problem Manuel speaks of is not generating the kind of dollars Connecticut would have received from the ACC, as an example, through a lucrative television deal. Despite less money coming in through this avenue, Manuel is confident Connecticut will be able to get creative to bring in money through other methods, such as ticket prices, corporate sponsorships or other revenue generators.
How confident is he? Well, a $40 million basketball training center is already under construction, and plans are in the works for a new on-campus hockey arena — it was announced last year that the Huskies will be joining Hockey East, arguably the best college hockey league in the country — and upgrades to the soccer, baseball and softball facilities.
Regardless of conference affiliation, Connecticut is still very relevant in the national college basketball scene. Whether they are wearing the ACC logo or AAC logo on their jerseys doesn’t change that. However, it is imperative that they continue to play a rigorous non-conference schedule and make routine trips to the NCAA Tournament to maintain their luster.
Added Mike Aresco, the commissioner of the AAC: “I think it’s really, really important for UConn to be able to play at the level they’ve become accustomed to. And while they will have different teams coming in, and a different look, they will be playing a high level of competition, and presenting marquee matchups will be important to us.”
It’s very possible that the AAC becomes a great niche for the Huskies, especially for their football program that proved they could be more than competitive since making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2004 — they reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 playing Oklahoma.
Granted they will be in a much smaller pond compared to the power five conferences, but perhaps the AAC is a much better spot for football than the ACC or Big Ten would have been. It would have been a tall task to compete against the top teams in the ACC and Big Ten, especially when basketball is the marquee sport at Connecticut.
As Warde Manuel has made clear, the AAC is Connecticut’s home, and excited times are ahead for the Huskies and the other schools in the newly formed conference.
You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11