For those who observe, December 23rd is a very special day. We get a pole, gather with family and friends, and of course there’s the airing of grievances.
I’m talking about Festivus: the 100 percent real holiday that we at The UConn Blog are celebrating this holiday season.
What better way to share the Festivus spirit than the airing of grievances?
UConn has a scheduled breakup with the AAC that has made these past few months incredibly awkward. We’ve got some very intense folks in our mentions telling us that the UConn athletic department is going to die a slow painful death, when actually that’s what was happening and would have kept happening if UConn stayed in the American.
So, to kick things off: Hey AAC, I got a lot of problems with you people!
In no particular order, here were the most upsetting aspects of being a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Stop trying to make Power 6 happen
We get it, you need to create messaging for a new league with a generic-ass name and try to build some hype around it. To its credit, the AAC is a quality mid-major football conference and most years it will be the best one outside of the “power five.”
That doesn’t change the fact that the power schools are making around $40 million per year compared to the roughly $7 million, possibly less, that AAC members will earn once their 10-year deal starts in 2022. That gap is only going to grow.
The Big Ten and SEC have their own TV networks and FOX and ESPN unloading the money truck. The AAC has a long-term, low-paid, pay-walled streaming deal. These are not the same.
UCF went undefeated in 2017 and reached the ceiling of an AAC football program: your head coach leaves for another job and the narrative around your bowl game is that the opponent doesn’t care.
At the end of the day, AAC member schools (minus UConn, who is leaving) don’t really make waves nationally in sports. Since they’ve placed their largest bets in football, where they’re permanently locked out of the College Football Playoff, they probably never will.
Meanwhile, over the past decade, UConn has won nine national championships in three sports, two of which are nationally televised, while producing NFL All-Pros, Pro Bowlers, basketball Olympians, NBA and WNBA All-Stars, a World Series MVP, a Gold Glove winner, and first-round picks in the drafts of the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS. The women’s basketball team will leave the AAC without having lost a single conference game.
YOUR ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT COULD NEVER.
It’s not you, it’s me
The AAC has a competitive, entertaining football league and the other sports are fine-ish, on average. But its geographic center is about 900 miles from UConn’s campus and that has negatively impacted recruiting in the northeast. This is a particularly severe problem for UConn basketball.
You see, basketball is very important to us, and UConn’s basketball is actually more valuable than your football.
AAC men’s basketball isn’t horrible. But for UConn, after winning a national championship in 2014, to be losing recruits to Providence, St. John’s, and Villanova was a big eye opener. “Staying home” didn’t mean much attached to a UConn offer when it meant regular trips to Florida, the midwest, and something called “East Carolina.”
Despite having down years, partially due to coaching, UConn won an AAC Tournament, a national championship, and the most NCAA Tournament games out of anyone in the conference.
UConn lent its hoops greatness to this league and got nothing back for it. It was a bad deal.
“BUT FOOTBALL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD, WHO CARES???” you tweet at me, angrily.
Sure, Alabama, Texas and the rest of the football upper class will have the most money because of football. But there is no path to becoming Alabama and Texas as a member of the American. The power five is not very likely to expand.
And, to be clear, UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball accomplishments are more significant than anything the rest of the AAC has ever done.
UConn sells third-tier rights to women’s basketball for over $1 million per year. That team sells out every. damn. home game. Men’s basketball has won four national championships, all since 1999, in six Final Fours. The team is currently loaded with young talent under a second-year head coach. Basketball commitments are already saying that UConn’s Big East move was a factor in their decision.
Joining the Big East will allow UConn to keep winning basketball titles—the AAC was getting in the way of that.
You’ll just have to trust us: winning basketball championships is better and more exciting than nine wins and an invite to the Riding Lawnmower Bowl in Birmingham.
Everyone wants out
It became clear just how unstable the American was after the Big 12 announced that it was considering expansion.
During that wild time, we saw incredible effort from every single AAC school. They hired consultants, leaked like crazy to reporters, and called in favors to Justin Timberlake, Larry the Cable Guy, and the Governor of Texas for support, all for an invite that never materialized. UConn was part of it too. It was brutal.
A lot of people criticize the American for not having a unifying identity. But after the Big 12 saga, we discovered that every member of the conference is united in its desire to not be a member of the conference.
The new TV deal sucks, for us, and maybe for you too
The AAC is going to see a lot more games on ESPN’s streaming subscription service than any fan is going to want. ESPN+ is a pretty solid product—it’s stacked up a lot of rights for sports that have a small but dedicated following. For it to be the main way to watch games is a huge negative for the exposure of the league, however.
For UConn to give up the third tier rights to women’s and men’s basketball if it stayed in the AAC meant that UConn would earn less television rights revenue than it did under the previous deal, while also getting fewer games on TV. Schools also needed to eat the cost of upgrading facilities and owning production of all the olympic sports which were going to ESPN+.
Congrats on getting to say “billion” though.
The basketball tournaments...
The men’s basketball tournaments have been mostly quiet affairs in undesirable cities that had some of the saddest arena environments I’ve ever seen. The only event with consistently strong attendance was the women’s basketball tournament at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
The next three AAC men’s basketball tournaments are at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas... We wish you well in your future endeavors.
Trading that for Madison Square Garden is worth the buyout fee alone.
Do you even blog bro?
With all due respect to a small handful of our closest internet friends (you know who you are), the American blogosphere is extremely light. It’s been lonely out here on these interwebs... I look forward to being in a conference with many large, active fanbases, online and offline.
UConn fans travel well, but the AAC didn’t really offer many opportunities due to the lack of marquee matchups and distance. For UConn fans living in the northeast (which is most of us), the AAC has just one opponent within a reasonable distance—we don’t have many graduates in Texas or Florida.
The Big East will be a massive upgrade in the number of road games UConn fans will be able to attend, a fun part of the college sports experience that has been missing for the past seven years.
We will never, ever forget the disrespect!