After more than half a decade of petty tweets and late-night road games at Tulsa, UConn appears to be leaving the American Athletic Conference sometime this coming week to join the new Big East. While the impending move benefits a handful of UConn’s top sports, no other program benefits from this move as much as the men’s basketball team.
Although UConn won a title in 2014 and a conference tournament championship in 2016, the time in the American has been...less than great. The program has lost out on recruits not necessarily due to the teams in the conference but sometimes due to the rigorous travel required. Fans have come out to Gampel Pavilion and XL Center less and less over the years due to the lack of regional rivals, leading to less ticket sales and less money overall at a time where UConn desperately needs more.
Granted, three losing seasons have played a role in all of this too, but all of these factors kept feeding into each other, creating an endless cycle of sadness that began with the inception of The American.
But now, that cycle seems to be broken, based on what we know at the moment.
While the Big East’s basketball-only TV deal isn't too different from the American’s new deal from a strictly monetary perspective, the new Big East offers some major baked-in advantages for UConn that should turn the men’s program back around financially and on the court. The athletic department will save thousands of dollars right off the bat in reduced travel, but the return of some long-lost nostalgia and more clout on the recruiting could help bring UConn back to the glory days.
A Bigger Stick To Swing In Recruiting
Dan Hurley still needs to get good players if he wants to rebuild this UConn program, conference affiliation aside. That being said, the Big East certainly has a higher basketball pedigree than the American, and it should be an easier sell for Hurley to show recruits a schedule that includes Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall, amongst others, consistently.
Joe Mantegna, head coach of Blair Academy and 2020 top-50 recruit Jabri Abdur-Rahim, told Adam Zagoria this shortly after the UConn to Big East news was announced.
“The Big East has a lot of sway around here and obviously I know that that puts UConn back with the same company that they were always with,” Mantegna said. “And people our age think of UConn as a Big East school, and I think that changes everything for recruiting for Danny.”
On top of this, proximity is huge. Instead of having conference members across the country, UConn’s entire conference is located in the northeast and midwest. This should give the Huskies a better chance of landing some of the top talent in the region like it in the old Big East. These recruits can see the Huskies on the road more easily and will have more exposure to their friends and family if they come to play in Storrs.
Back To The Good Old Days
UConn fans miss the old Big East, and rightfully so - it was arguably the greatest basketball conference of all time. While those days are long gone, this new version of the Big East certainly checks all of the right boxes to appease Husky fans. Rivalries against Villanova, Georgetown and Providence immediately get rekindled. Old friends DePaul, Marquette, St. John’s and Seton Hall are back into the fold.
These schools will almost certainly pull in attendance numbers than any of the Huskies’ AAC opponents did. Not only does that lead to more money for UConn, but a better home environment that helps land better recruits. It starts a new cycle, one that sucks a whole lot less.
On top of all of this, the crown jewel is the return of UConn to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. Year in and year out, UConn fans have turned out in droves for games at MSG, even during the dark days of the AAC. Now, with UConn back at the world’s most famous arena, the school and the Big East should enjoy an incredible basketball environment every March.
The TV Deal
Throw this in with the Big East’s TV deal with Fox, and the Huskies are in great shape. While the money isn’t currently too different from what UConn receives now from the AAC, adding a new school may allow the conference to renegotiate their deal that is set to expire in 2026, increasing the payout from a TV deal that has widely been recognized as an incredible bargain for Fox.
Plus, the Big East’s status as Fox’s top billing for basketball means better exposure, less games on streaming-only services, better game times (so long, Thursday night 9 p.m. road games), and quality announcers like Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson. How can fans not get excited for that?
This monumental change for UConn will inject some badly-needed enthusiasm and energy into a beaten-down fanbase. While the move certainly does create some headaches for the university overall (especially with football), this decision to jump to the new Big East puts their best asset in a much better position for short and long term success. While the move may still be over a year away, UConn may start seeing some of these Big East benefits sooner rather than later.