Sometimes the writing is on the wall. My reading of the situation is that from where we stand at this very moment, we have a great opportunity to be picked up by the ACC, and a plausible chance to be picked up by the B10. I also believe that neither of these things will happen, that Uconn football will be comparable to non-power conference Div 1 football, that this future is all but guaranteed not by our position today but by our leadership going into the future, and that our leadership is okay with that situation.
I lay-out my argument for this below. It's based on 6 points:
1) The Big 10 is motivated by TV markets and a fear of leaking viewership as the population density continues away from the B10 states.
2) The ACC is motivated by a fear of football inferiority brought on by years of under-performance and a growing secondary status in the power conference hierarchy.
3) The B12 is relatively stable and un-reactive. Their greatest concern is stability and ensuring their current members do not exit.
4) The SEC is stable and has no apparent motivation to expand unless significant value can be brought in from elsewhere.
5) The power 5 conferences will reap enormous and disproportionate rewards from the BCS playoff system as well as TV contracts- many times more than any school in a non-power 5.
6) Any school not in a power 5 conference will not be able to compete in a meaningful way. A relative lack of funds will result in relatively poor facilities. A relative lack of strong competition will result in a relative lack of viewership and fans. A relative lack of status will result in a relative lack of ability to recruit top talent.
Okay, so if you accept that these above points are more or less true then read on.
Almost everyone accepts that the most likely scenario moving forward is further conference alignment. This is most likely to occur through further B10 expansion. Either they raid the ACC, or perhaps grab another BEast team or 2, or some other school. This causes a cascade where the ACC then needs to grab Uconn or Cinn or perhaps some other team(s).
The team that will be grabbed by the ACC is the one with the best athletic department (particularly in football) with some smaller emphasis on culture, geography and academics. The team that will be grabbed by the B10 is the one that is in the best eastern market with the best academics that has an appropriate minimum level of football commitment. These events may happen tomorrow, or they may happen sometime over the next 12-24 months. When they do happen, the B10 will be thinking about future potential. The ACC will be thinking about which school will appease their members and bring stability.
The answer to both of these questions in terms of who they select will be the school that shows the greatest future potential for their concerns. There are no super-attractive options open in the BEast or other non-power 5. Yet, it's likely that at least 1 BEast school will get chosen, either directly by the B10 for TV market or by the ACC because they can look nowhere esle.
The playing field is level right now, neither conference will be impressed nor completely deterred by Uconn or Cin, so they will choose based on potential and what they can tell their members to expect going forward. So, what have we done?
Uconn's Herbst has released public statements hinting at the subordinate place of athletics to academics in terms of the future of the school (implicitly not recognizing the mutual ties they hold and the attractiveness of big sports to students). AD Warde Manuel has indicated that he continues to support his current (losing) coach (PP) and will not expand the rent until the fan numbers call for it (i.e., fill the seats before you expand). Keep in mind, current B10 member, UMich does not want to play Uconn at the Rent due to the small size of the stadium. It doesn't matter that Uconn can't fill it. UMich can. I wonder how they would feel about Uconn joining the B10?
Cincinnati is launching a major campaign to expand their stadium and will be aggressively seeking a top notch coach to replace Butch Jones, attempting to demonstrate a commitment to football.
Which school will the ACC or B10 choose? Hmmm...
I believe that Herbst and Manuel recognize the situation in the same way, but that investing in the football program during a time when the state budget crisis seems to grow by the day appears to them as too risky. Instead, they're hoping to avoid investment and win the lotto- that one of the conferences will need Uconn after losing 2 members. Worst case scenario, they can always claim that they did everything they could and also insist that Uconn will be successful in any conference it plays in (it won't).
Tragically, I believe if Herbst called Jim Delaney today and asked what Uconn would need to do to get into the B10, there would be a decent chance he would tell her that it is a possibility and that with the right investments the university would be too compelling to turn away. A large stadium and a top coach- the same attributes that would get them into the ACC. The same things Cinn will have in the coming months/years.