Crisis. We've all experienced it at some point in our lives. Never something you look forward to, but how you handle it can ultimately define you. When it manifests, you have two options. You can either sit back and react, hope that things don't get too bad, or you can take action to mitigate it- fight or flight. For our beloved alma-mater, The University of Connecticut, that day has come.
As a UConn fan, the announcement today of the ACC's selection of Louisville as its 14th member over Connecticut and *cough, cough* Cincinnati (who, let's be honest, was never really a big player to begin with) is extremely unsettling for a number of reasons. Reasons which, if you have been paying attention, you're already familiar with. UConn was initially projected as the immediate replacement for Maryland as soon as they jumped ship to the Big 10 along with Rutgers. With each passing moment since Maryland left the conference, the picture started to look worse and worse for the Huskies. The rumor mill started churning about what direction the ACC wanted to take- stick to it's core values - a healthy balance of academic (US News & World Report Rankings: UConn #63, Louisville #160) and athletic success along with geographic area and market size (UConn #30, Ville #48), or alter course and place the value on what seems to have been driving the whole realignment picture in the first place- football, football, athletic department revenue (the Cards are top notch here)... and football.
Well, the ACC chose "football." I put the word "football" in quotes because according to the ACC's view, Louisville has a brighter football future than UConn at the current moment. Now, that might be true- I won't necessarily disagree with it. Louisville is currently at 9-2 for the year, while UConn sits at a measly 5-6. But let's take a look at the deeper numbers: Since 2007, Louisville's record is 38-34. UConn's? 43-32. Head to Head? UConn leads the series 4-2. You do the math. Despite those numbers, the general consensus is that Louisville has a more stable program at this point.
As a result, most of the ACC's southern football powers gave the thumbs down to Connecticut. This move to add Louisville was made to pacify FSU, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Va Tech- each of whom, to the ACC's concern, could bolt at any time if another power conference comes knocking. With the recent defection of MD, the ACC is suddenly in danger of becoming the next Big East. An ACC school with not much to offer the Big Ten other than a piece of the Northeast Market made a move, so now the question becomes who might go after the higher profile ACC schools. That remains to be seen. Regardless, the addition of Louisville supposedly helps ease the ACC's worry on FSU, etc following suit and defecting with the Terrapins.
So what do the Huskies do now? We don't have any control over where we might end up, right? WRONG. At least I think so.
We were initially projected to take the ACC's 14th bid. Something had to happen for us to lose it. Perhaps we did in fact lose the bid for reasons beyond our complete control as a University. To be honest, that probably was the case. As of right now, I trust Warde Manuel as our AD and I like what Susan Herbst has done as our President so far. From what I've seen, I think they have handled themselves well. But I just hope we lost this bid after having done everything we could, and if we didn't, we need to quickly wake up and start doing everything we can to improve our chances of joining a power conference when the next realignment wave hits. Which almost certainly IS coming. And when it does, forget about the ACC. Personally I don't want anything to do with that conference anymore. It's clear they don't want us, so why should we settle for them? It's time to think B1G, as in Big 10. Is it a long-shot? Yep. Is it out of the question? Absolutely not. Especially if schools like Rutgers and Maryland were targeted. So back to the original question: What do the Huskies do now?
ANSWER: Take SOME kind of ACTION. Do... SOMETHING!!! In the the following bit, to vent for the sake of my own therapeutic benefit, I offer my humble opinion. Merely a collection of thoughts.
We can't merely sit back and just wait for another conference, whether it be the ACC at some point, the Big 12 (very unlikely) or B1G (probably unlikely, but holding out hope) to come knocking. We have to, absolutely have to, start making moves. And if I'm calling the shots, it starts with this:
1) IMMEDIATELY announce plans for the expansion of Rentschler Field to accommodate 55,000+ seats. We're currently seating 40,000 right now. Could we fill a 55,000 seat stadium in the Big East? Probably not, but it's money that won't be wasted. Realistically, we'll probably end up in another conference eventually, and when we do, we'll play good teams. The 55,000 capacity is the first step that we take, that we can control, to making us more attractive to a conference like the B1G, and if we're playing schools like Michigan and Ohio State, that stadium will fill up. Remember, football is king in the realignment world.
2) Seriously consider signing Kevin Ollie to a long term contract extension at some point before the end of the basketball season. This brings stability to recruiting, and while it's still early in the season and in his head coaching career, we've seen and heard nothing but great things from him. It also removes a big question mark from the program. 2-A) Graduate our freaking basketball team.
3) Within the year, if no more realignment dominos fall, seriously explore the option of becoming a football independent. To be honest, I have no idea what the rules and/or regulations are with this. I have no clue what's involved. Maybe someone can comment here and enlighten me? But if it's a possibility, it needs to be explored. The Big East in its current state is a weak football conference at best. If we stayed in basketball I could live with it. We'd still have the regular games against Gtown, Nova, Marquette, etc. If we go independent in football though, that gives us the ability to schedule games against better teams, thus increasing our national presence.
4) Put a bigger magnifying glass on Paul Pasqualoni. Think hard about this one. He might need to go, and if he does the next hire is arguably the most important in the school's history.
5) GET ON THE PHONE. With EVERY B1G School, including the commissioners office. Establish relationships if possible. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle. All day long. I'm sure Herbst and Manuel are doing this already. I'm sure they are.
That's all I'm going to list for now. I could probably think of some more reasons, but the bottom line- this is a pivotal point in our University's history, and we need to fight to ensure we stay on the upswing. We've experienced unprecedented growth and have much to offer: 3X National Bball Champs, proximity to the NY Market, a TV contract with SNY, the top public academics in New England, rapid improvement in football, etc, etc. There's no doubt this is an extremely dark day if you're a UConn fan. There's enough pessimism to go around. At the end of the day though, think big picture. We're a great school- not a good school, a great school, with a lot to offer. I really do think we'll get out of this mess- realignment is far from over.