Things look bleak now, but you never know what will come next.
I know how you are feeling: pretty down. When Maryland left the ACC, you (like me) thought sometime this week that UConn would be announced to fill their place. The media thought so too. So did other athletic directors. Well, now there's a Cardinal going into the ACC and it's not the great academic one that produced Andrew Luck. The truth is, we won't know any time soon why Louisville jumped over early-favorite UConn to take a spot in the SEC's minor league (did I say that? I meant ACC). There are certainly plenty of theories to kick around -- Boston College still has it in for us, Louisville gave a better presentation, Louisville has better attendance in football and a perceived better program -- but for now it's all speculation. A lot of people in the media are shaking their heads too. Whatever, let's move on.
If you are a college sports fan, this is what you signed up for. These leagues are fluid. UConn has had a Division I-A/FBS football program for barely more than a decade yet but they are in an automatic qualifying conference (currently). Other than South Florida, who else can say that? This isn't the NFL or MLB where there is a commissioner who acts in the best interest of the sport and the teams (most of the time). To call the NCAA a corrupt organization may be a bit much, but to call it a "good ol'boys" network isn't a stretch. Sometimes programs get caught in the wrong sport and are beat down.
It's fairly obvious the UConn Mens' basketball program is one of those programs currently. They are still investigating Auburn football from two years ago, so, we are not alone. Our APR violation probably hurt us. Did it hurt us any more than Rentscheler Field being a third empty for late season games this year? Who knows. And because the Big East put basketball first instead of football they lost out in the long run as a conference. In the last 15 years, the Big East has 4 basketball titles, the ACC has 5 and the SEC has 5, and only one school has three titles in that span -- UConn. But basketball doesn't drive the bus. The Big East may have been one of, if not the best basketball conference (they also won 7 NCAA Women's titles to the ACC's 1 during that stretch) -- but that didn't stop Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College and now Louisville from defecting.
But it's not over. The ACC is a couple of defections away from being a zombie Big East in football. If Clemson, Virginia and/or Florida State leave, their power football schools will all former Big East members. So what did those schools get out of leaving? Miami won't have an in-state rival in league, nor will Virginia Tech. Syracuse won't have the traveling fans who could drive to Hartford or MSG or Philadelphia to make road games a little more like home games. Pitt would jump for the Big Ten in a heartbeat. Basically rather than playing Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and the Big East Tournament at the Garden, they'll get to play Duke, North Carolina and NC State and an ACC tournament somewhere their fans can't overrun due to distance. And, let's be honest. When it comes to wins on the field or court, what team that left the Big East for the ACC is better off now than when they were in the Big East? Not one. ACC recruiting isn't grabbing the best athletes in the Northeast -- it's about gauging the southern players who can't get SEC scholarships. You don't hear much about it here, but "down south", the SEC superiority over the ACC is a running gag. The ACC's best non-conference win this year was Virginia beating an at-the-time identity-less Penn State game due to a couple miss chip-shot field goals.
And you know what, I still like the Big East. Football is one sport. In Randy Edsall's first year after taking over for Skip Holtz UConn lost to Northeastern in the rain on homecoming weekend at Memorial Stadium in front of a few thousand people. Who would have thought a decade later we'd be beating South Carolina and Notre Dame? When UConn goes undefeated in football and doesn't get a playoff spot, then we can complain. But let's do that first -- because a good three-or-four year run in football will get the phone ringing by other leagues. We are still UConn. We still will be playing at MSG for the Big East Championship in the future against Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, Seton Hall and St. John's. We will still be in a solid soccer league (we've been selling out home games this year and we're in the Elite 8). Geno's ladies will still be crushing 99 percent of their opponents and he won't miss Pitt or Syracuse, he'll just schedule Duke, Texas or Marlyand to get the out-of-conference fix. As we saw last weekend with wins in football, soccer and mens' and womens' basketball, UConn is a force athletically that very few other schools can compare.
With a win vs. Cincy this weekend (that might be a stretch) and we'll have a football team in a bowl game, basketball teams that were both ranked at times in the Top 25 (both of which have won league and national titles within the past 4 years), a baseball program coming off a super-regional finish 2 years ago and nationally ranked womens' cross country and field hockey programs. #FtheACC -- we're pretty damn good on our own -- we've been better without them, and they'd be better with us. Louisville may have a fancy rowing facility (I'm really sick of hearing that) but Storrs has some great unique features too. It's a college town, not a college city, but a large school. Where else does that exist now? Not many places. And Gampel, although under-used, is as nice a venue for its size as any other in college basketball. We're cloning sheep, winning national titles and recognized as our regions' top public university. We don't have fast-food-chicken and pizza-place stadiums with very little identity to our school. Sure, the Rent is a drive from Storrs, but that's a UConn building, not a pizza house.
Louisville is a strong program too in most of these sports, but there's not an academic measure where they come close to us. With the coaches they have in place in football and basketball, they are in "sell high, buy low" mode. The ACC "bought high," but we'll see where they are when Pitino retires. Calapari-less Kentucky will always out-recruit a Pitino-less Louisville, and if you drive 45 minutes outside of Louisville's campus you'll easily see more Kentucky Wildcat bumper stickers and hats than you will Louisville gear. And we all saw what happened to the Louisville football program when Bobby Petrino left.
Currently the media is talking about the Big East like it's a dying elephant. And if leadership is poor, the league will die. It's certainly taken enough hits. Right now it's all about television contracts and money and college football. It might not always be that way. The driving force of sports is fluid as well. Once the television money is all drained, what will be the next revenue source? I'm sure the Big East (and all conferences) are thinking about this. The world didn't end today, and though things look bleak, you can never be sure of what tomorrow brings. Right now it's still our Big East, so let's fill up the XL Center and Rentscheler, and be loud and boastful, because no matter what, we still have a lot to boast about.