I am a fan of the ESPN 30 for 30 series. Back when it first started, I still had cable and would watch many of the documentaries, most of which were compelling and extremely well done. Personally I was very excited for the Requiem for the Big East one that came out last month. Unfortunately, due to circumstance I have been unable to watch it thus far, but my understanding is that it focused heavily on the 80's and glazed over the UConn rise to power.
However, that got me thinking, why doesn't UConn have their own 30 for 30? Not just the Men's or Women's program but both of them. Does it not fit into the 30 for 30 objective of telling stories that have been overlooked? I can just hear the announcer now, saying:
"This is a story about how two coaching hires made within a year of each other transformed a sleepy little New England farm town into the biggest basketball powerhouse in the country."
Let us examine for a moment the qualifications for each program to justify such a claim. On the Women's side, since Geno Auriemma was hired, they have made 15 Final Fours and won 9 National Championships. Only Tennessee can rival that. However, if you narrow that to down to just the past 15 years, UConn Women's Basketball is far and away the most dominant program in the country bringing in 8 National Championships, and 12 Final Fours. In that same span the Lady Vols won 2 National Championships and went to 7 Final Fours. Other schools such as Notre Dame, Stanford, and Baylor have emerged as potential rivals to UConn's preeminence, but those schools combined have won 3 titles and been to 14 Final Fours during that window.
On the flip side, you have the Men's program, where there is a more difficult case to be made due to increased parity but one that is growing increasingly strong. The Jim Calhoun journey really starts to catch steam with the 1988 NIT Championship which led to the 1990 Dream Season. Despite that Elite Eight run turning the Huskies into a Big East power and perennial National Championship contender, Calhoun was left with the unfortunate title of Best Coach Never to Make a Final Four throughout the 1990s. Then there was the 1999 breakthrough and everything changed.
Following that championship, UConn would add 3 more titles and 4 Final Four appearances. In the past 15 years no other school, has won more than 2 National Championships. In fact, the only program in the Men's or Women's game to win as many as 3 titles in that span is none other than the Lady Huskies. But programs also get judged on Final Fours and since 1999, the UConn Men have been to 5, second most behind Michigan State's 6 appearances.
This year marks the 4th time both the UConn Men and Women made the same Final Four. No other school has done that more than once. Additionally, UConn is the only school ever to hold both the Men's and Women's titles at the same time, an achievement they have now accomplished twice.
So why does UConn need a 30 for 30? The reason is simple, conference realignment has placed the athletic programs of the school in a precarious position. Ex post facto APR punishments very well may have seen UConn left out of the ACC, along with the prospects of Jim Calhoun's imminent retirement and the bottoming out of the football program. The most important thing the school can do right now is market their athletic program. This championship run has been tremendous as it has shown that the program survived the APR ban and it survived the transition away from the Hall of Fame coach who built the program. It has placed the school in position to remain a basketball powerhouse going forward.
Furthermore, it really demonstrated the notion that if you want the NYC market, you need UConn. Rutgers offers very little in the way of inroads to New York City and while there has been some frustration due to a perception that the UConn's Men's run is tainted due to a clear home court advantage at Madison Square Garden, I argue this narrative is important for the school. If you want the New York market, UConn can deliver it.
This year has been an important first step. Last year everyone left UConn for dead: the Catholic 7, the ACC, the Big Ten, the talking heads, the NCAA, and even some of the now former members of the Men's Basketball team itself. This year under Kevin Ollie the Men's program has reemerged and announced to the world that we will not be overlooked, we will not be fade in obscurity like the Big East, we are an elite program, get used to it.
The next step needs to be to further push this. A 30 for 30 documentary would be a PR coup. It would be airing to the whole nation the strengths of the school's basketball programs. It would be in essence an hour long recruiting tool. But the goal of it is not to recruit athletes, it is to recruit conferences. It is to convince the ACC they need to grow a spine, tell BC to shut up, that UConn is joining and if they don't like it the American will gladly take them in. It is to convince the Big Ten that if you really want New York City, Rutgers cannot help, UConn's presence will do far more to secure a share of that market.
I am suggesting that Huskies fans should start a grassroots campaign to get a 30 for 30. Many of the original projects were brought to ESPN by the filmmakers. Are there any prominent filmmakers who are also Nutmeggers? We should be tweeting at the likes of ESPN, Bill Simmons (producer of the 30 for 30 series), and UConn itself pushing this. We should get a hashtag to go viral such as #UConn30for30. There should be a facebook page devoted to this, articles written promoting this. We should show the world how big Husky Nation really is.
This truly is an improbable story that two unheralded coaching hires made in the mid 80s turned Storrs, Connecticut into the center of the college basketball universe. It is time that story gets told.