It’s a day many though would never come. UConn appears to be on the verge of escaping the purgatory known as the American Athletic Conference for the new Big East conference. It’s a move that, on the surface, appears to benefit everyone from players and coaches to the fans.
However, not everyone is going to be thrilled about leaving the AAC for the Big East. Here are the winners and losers from the news:
HUGE Winners: Both Basketball Programs
There’s no question the move to the Big East is being done for the sake of both UConn’s elite basketball programs. Both teams will join a conference that they not only have a deep history with but that is also a step above the AAC, both in prestige and level of play.
In the case of Geno Auriemma’s team, UConn will benefit from being in a conference that will actually offer the Huskies a challenge. UConn never lost a conference game in the AAC and they does not appear to be in danger of doing so anytime soon. Moreover, the presence of UConn in the AAC hasn’t done much to elevate other teams in the conference either, with only UCF showing even moderate improvement over the last six seasons.
As for the men, joining the Big East will certainly be a big boon to Dan Hurley’s recruiting efforts. There’s no question playing in the Big East carries more weight than playing in the American and playing at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament will be amazing for the fans, players, coaches, and recruits. The Huskies no longer need to rely solely on selling recruits on the program’s decorated history.
UConn’s basketball teams are the foundation of the athletic department. With this move, the school is that it will protect the interests of those two programs above all else, making them the biggest winners of this move.
Time will tell what effect this move actually has on UConn football but for now it comes out as a loser. The Huskies will drop out from the best Group-of-Five conference into unknown waters — whether that be a new conference like the MAC or Conference USA, or even independence. Since the move to the Big East was done with basketball in mind, it means the football program is left with more questions than answers.
Of course, this team was doing quite a bit of losing, and was the reason UConn being in the AAC ever made any sense at all. But with a power five invite or opening seeming unlikely, and the football program’s lack of improvement, that mission needed to change.
Winner: Student Athletes
The travel burden of the AAC on UConn was immense, considering the Huskies’ closest travel partner after Temple is East Carolina, 500 miles away. In the Big East, five of UConn’s 10 future conference mates are all closer than the second-closest team in the AAC.
The costs of travel will certainly drop for the athletic department but more importantly, it means student-athletes will spend less time away from campus. That means less class time missed and more time to study, sleep or even just be typical college students. For the players on the soccer or field hockey teams who are not part of the big-money cycle of college athletics, no longer having to make trips to Oklahoma and Texas is great.
Winner: The Fans
Husky fans never hid their displeasure with the league and the opponents that UConn had to play year in or year out on the hardwood. There was zero excitement around AAC matchups. Even when schools like UCF or SMU were strong, they didn’t move the needle for the fanbase.
At the same time, UConn gets out from under the AAC’s TV deal. Fans weren’t happy with basketball games going from linear television to ESPN+, costing them more and making it more difficult to watch. Now with the Big East’s deal with Fox Sports, all basketball games should remain on linear television.
Neutral: The American Athletic Conference
Let’s be honest, UConn and the AAC were an arranged marriage that was bound to fall apart. And this was somewhat true for any school in the conference, as we saw each and every AAC member wag their ass in the air when a Big 12 invitation was on the table.
Even in that group though, UConn was in the most uniquely awkward situation.
That never was more clear than this past March when the new TV deal was released. The deal received praise from everyone in the conference — everyone except UConn. The Huskies were geographic outliers and a basketball-first school in a football-first conference.
The AAC gets rid of its problem child, AAC fans no longer need to hear UConn (rightfully) complain ad nauseam about the conference and UConn finds a more suitable home for its best athletic programs. The AAC might even be able to replace UConn with someone like Marshall, UAB, or a number of other schools that offer a better overall fit.
The terms of the TV deal with ESPN are now up in the air, which is why this is a neutral, because the money might go down without all that good basketball inventory UConn offered, and even for all its crappiness Husky football probably still had more viewers than a chunk of the league.
Winners: Both Soccer Programs
The fall of UConn men’s soccer from being a national power to where it is now can almost be lined up directly with the fall of the Big East. In 2013, the first year of the AAC, the Huskies reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row.
Since then, UConn has made the NCAA Tournament just twice in five years and haven’t advanced past the second round. Prior to 2014, the Huskies only missed the NCAA Tournament once under head coach Ray Reid since 1998. It’s safe to say there probably won’t be many objections to the move in the men’s soccer offices.
The women’s team actually fared pretty well in the AAC, winning two conference tournaments and a regular season title. However, with the program in rebuilding mode, moving to a better conference with more geographic rivals certainly won’t hurt.
One program actually benefited from the move to the AAC: The baseball team. The conference is regarded as one of the best in the nation for baseball, ranking fifth in the nation according to RPI this past season. The Big East ranked 17th on that list behind the likes of the WCC, Conference USA, the Southland and others.
Since UConn baseball’s first season in the AAC in 2014, the team won the conference tournament once and made the NCAA Tournament three times in just six seasons. The program is certainly on the upswing but that’s more credit to head coach Jim Penders than the conference.
Joining the Big East isn’t the ideal scenario for the baseball program but it’s far from a dire situation. If anything, the Huskies will just start collecting more conference championships than they were before.