I was walking out my front door today, thinking about the realignment catastrophe that's become reality for UConn, when I looked down and, low and behold, found a nice, new, shiny pair of rose-colored glasses.I tried them on. At first, in truth, they didn't fit very well, and I was about to throw them away when I realized that, looking through them, the future looked a hell of a lot nicer for UConn than when I took them off. So, I pulled and pushed and, wouldn't yah know it, they fit. They're snug, but they fit.
What are we, as UConn fans, left to do but firmly pour a few ounces of water into the nearest jar and scream "half full"? We're not going to stop watching UConn sports, and allowing the future to take on this grim, nasty, apocalyptic feel just isn't healthy. No, what's done is done. UConn will never again be a part of the Big East. They will never play another conference championship in Madison Square Garden (well, likely they won't). Conference realignment has done what it seems it was created to do: kill the Big East. For all the reasons that have been discussed on this blog a thousand times, UConn finds itself in the middle of this mess. Forget who you blame (ahem...Warde Manuel...ahem) and just accept that fact. UConn is now a part of the No Name Conference, Frankenconference, God...This Sucks Conference (the last one was endorsed by frequent blog commenter derbyguy), and that's the reality.
Maybe the Big 10 snatches Virginia and Georgia Tech in another few months. Maybe the SEC decides to strong arm Florida into accepting FSU as a member, with Clemson following close behind. Maybe UConn begins play next year or the year after in the ACC.
But for now all we know is, UConn will have a new conference next year, with new members, pursuing the same goal. And I'm ready to see the sunshine pushing through the clouds. I'm ready to believe that this setback can quickly become a step up. I'm ready for my rose-colored glasses. When on, what do I see? Here are a few things:
As has been pointed out by others, UConn should be able to dominate in basketball next year and in the foreseeable future. They will go from a conference that includes, yearly, eight to nine top 25 caliber teams to one which includes probably three or four. The "I'll pay you Tuesday for a conference name today" approach to negotiations with the Catholic Seven should be to keep them on good enough speaking terms with such old rivals as Georgetown and Villanova that games shouldn't be hard to schedule. That's a first step and the UConn name is still big enough to attract members in power conferences to agree to home-and-home contracts. UConn will have more guaranteed wins in conference, should have a straight-line shot to tournament championships most years, and will be able to put together one of the more respectable non-conference schedules in the country. Considering I have all the confidence in Kevin Ollie to both coach and recruit, that should be enough to keep UConn near the top in basketball.
We can say that a rising tide lifts all ships, but being a part of the ACC certainly hasn't helped our buddies to the north, Boston College. Being a part of "better competition" for the defenders of Chestnut Hill hasn't produced a top-tier football program, and there's no guarantee UConn would fair much better. For now, being in a watered down conference for football might allow UConn to win a bunch of games. It might allow them to put together some 9- and 10-win seasons. Coming out of Frankenconference, that won't mean a trip to the Final Four that's about to start up, but it will mean a chance to be ranked, make a good bowl, and take a place among the loveable whiners who each year complain that they can't get their due respect because they don't play in a big conference (Boise State, TCU before its move to the Big 12). Sure, that requires Paul Pasqualoni and crew to put together a winning program, but, hey, we're wearing rose colored glasses here, remember?
Leaving behind the Big East name will sting, but putting behind all the barbs, all the jokes, all the snide remarks is actually a plus. It was never warranted, but "Big East" had become a punchline. It's become an easy target for hack columnists who rely on a trusty "hey, the Big East sucks" column when they have writer's block. With the Catholic Seven taking the name, it allows UConn and the rest of the holdovers to start fresh. Hey, there have been a lot of conference names, a lot of changes. UConn can help write a new chapter. The fact that the slate is wiped clean is a positive I think.
A side note: Rick Pitino, who said the Catholic Seven "deserve" the Big East name, and Mike Brey, who said the Catholic Seven had "carried the banner" for the conference, should both be beaten with heavy rope and a rolled up copy of Douchebag Monthly. Do you know how many members of the Catholic Seven have won a Big East Tournament title since 1995? Two. Do you know how many have been to the Final Four? Two. Do you know how many have won a National Championship? Zero. If any member of the Catholic Seven had actually been asked to "carry the banner" for the conference the last two decades, the brand would be worth about 10 cents right now. It was UConn who carried that banner. It was UConn that won three titles, made four final four appearances, and nabbed six Big East Tournament trophies in that time frame. Sure, Syracuse and Louisville helped do some of the heavy lifting, but none of the Catholic Seven, outside Georgetown and Villanova, helped much in furthering the Big East cause. When I hear morons like Brey talk about "carrying a banner" and Pitino throw out the word "deserve" it makes me want to vomit. You know who should get an extra kick back from these departing Catholic Seven schools? UConn. Without its wins and its consistency the Big East name wouldn't be worth fighting over.
We all know that, if and when the ACC comes calling, UConn is jumping ship faster than a water rat with a 162 IQ traveling on the Titanic. That's a given. But I'm writing this assuming that UConn won't have that choice for a good long while. Let's assume nothing happens for the next five or more years. That means UConn needs to make this new conference its home. The one thing Frankenconference has going for it is how history, and sports history in general, loves to flip the narrative. Right now, the soon-to-be dead Big East is a doormat worth less than a discarded penny. It's comic relief for the more serious-minded power conferences. No one can see how this hodge-podge group of nobodies can make it. But, get a big year out of, say, Houston. Get a surprising year out of USF. Get UConn back on the path towards respectability. Pull off a few "how did they do that" victories (Michigan, anyone?) and, suddenly, the narrative starts to turn. Guys making their living pretending the "Big East" shouldn't be allowed on the same field as many of these other "power" schools will suddenly be writing about the new little conference that could, and how they saw it coming all along. Suddenly, the narrative will shift. It doesn't take a lot to make yourself the cool kids on the block when it comes to college athletics.
I know this is all nice-thinking stuff, but we can sit around dissecting all the obvious drawbacks to what's happening, or try to perk ourselves up with a rosier view of the future. The truth is, UConn can take care of itself. If Kevin Ollie recruits like we think he can and coach like we know he can, then men's basketball is going to be fine. If UConn football can build something meaningful, something representative, then a somewhat weaker conference might be a blessing in disguise. And we know Geno and company aren't going to care one hoot what conference they call home.
If UConn worries about itself, conference affiliation will mean little. And, if somehow, someway, in 15 years we looked up and Frankenconference was actually a more desirable landing spot than the ACC, wouldn't that be the best vindication of all? I'm telling you, if you stare hard enough with these glasses on, you can almost see it happening.