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What UConn to the Big East Means for UConn Football

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Independent? FCS? MAC? Who knows??

The UConn Huskies take on the Boston College Eagles in a college football game at Fenway Park in Boston as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series on November 18, 2017.
The UConn Huskies take on the Boston College Eagles in a college football game at Fenway Park in Boston as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series on November 18, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Saturday morning dropped a news bomb on the college sports world as rumors that had been circulating for a few years and really gained steam in the previous 24 hours were confirmed by multiple outlets: UConn is moving to the Big East. According to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, the announcement could be on Thursday.

We covered winners and losers, dropped a podcast, and will dive deeper into what this means for men’s and women’s basketball. In this article, we’ll talk about what it means for UConn football. The Big East does not have football, so moving everything else out of the AAC means something’s gotta change.

With the terms of the new television contract, and the reality that UConn was not improving in the AAC, playing in the best-possible football conference with hopes of a Power Five invite made less sense with each passing year. It’s incredible that UConn’s leadership made this bold move, and many Husky fans are rightfully excited, but it does leave the football program at a serious crossroads.

UConn head coach Randy Edsall was unavailable for comment.

The AAC is highly, highly unlikely to allow UConn to stay as a football-only member. Navy is currently the only team in the league with that deal, and with the Husky football program struggling hard since 2016, UConn doesn’t add much value without basketball to a conference that is now mostly situated in the south and midwest.

For UConn to stay in an FBS conference, this leaves the MAC or Conference USA, and neither seems very likely either. It would have the same downsides as the AAC, but with less money and lower-quality football. It’s not a great move for UConn and probably not all that great for those conferences either.

With FBS conference options eliminated, the question comes down to remaining in FBS as an independent versus moving down to FCS and joining a league like the CAA, where it could play regional “rivals” Albany, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Stony Brook, and Villanova and also some FCS heavy-hitters in James Madison, William & Mary, and Richmond. This could happen, but at the moment the school and state are invested enough to remain supportive of FBS membership. There is still money to be made there, if UConn can get it right.

FBS independence is a drum I was beating in a previous podcast as a possible option for the increasingly feasible and attractive move to the Big East. As the football program continued to decline, it was appropriate to question whether or not the AAC was even the best place to grow UConn football. Perhaps it had reached such a dour state after the Diaco years that it needed a less structured rehabilitation program, and needed to give its fans more match-ups they cared about.

As an FBS Independent, UConn could get fellow regional independents Army and UMass on the schedule regularly, and should not have too much trouble cobbling something together that includes Buffalo, Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Rutgers, Temple, as a core that fans would be interested in seeing.

They could fill the schedule out with FCS, high-major buy games, and MAC and C-USA teams that will still be interested in scheduling. For bowl purposes, UConn could sign a deal directly with ESPN. For financial benefits, UConn really needs someone like SNY or NESN to step up, but it doesn’t need to earn much to offset the loss of the AAC contract.

At the end of the day, UConn is a basketball school first. Football had an exciting run when it joined the Big East and got respectable in what was then a major FBS conference. When those cards came tumbling down and UConn ended up in the AAC, things went into disarray. Given the likelihood of the power five expanding is now slim, pursuing football success is less of a priority, while simultaneously becoming less of a possibility.

I think FBS independence is the best short-term move for the program, because you never know what can happen. Down the road, dropping to FCS may work out, or the FBS conference landscape could shift dramatically in the mid-2020s and maybe UConn finds a more appropriate landing spot.

It’s shocking to many people outside of the UConn-sphere, but there is a lot of support for this football program. The fanbase is there. They traveled in droves to a game at Fenway Park in Boston to watch a one-win UConn team play Boston College. They showed up to the 2017 season opener to welcome Randy Edsall back with open arms. Games at the Rent have been a lot of fun in the recent past, and that’s worth trying to hold on to. It can still happen.