Geno Auriemma might not keep close tabs on conference realignment, but he does know this: no matter what conference his team plays in, the Huskies will do really well.
“To me, it really hasn’t mattered too much what conference we’re in,” Auriemma told reporters at his annual charity golf tournament in West Hartford on Monday. “From the late 80’s, mid 90’s whether it was the original original Big East we were in, when we added teams in the Big East, and then when we added even more teams in the Big East and then we lost some teams in the Big East to the conference we’re in now, it really hasn’t changed that much. ... we’ve been able to be pretty successful no matter where we’ve been.”
Auriemma is certainly right. After 120 games in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies still have yet to lose. They won multiple national championships and have kept their amazing Final Four streak alive throughout their time in the American. It’s not impossible to think that UConn wraps up its stint in the AAC undefeated before it joins (slightly) stiffer competition in the Big East for the 2020-21 season, a move that became public this past weekend and is set to be officially announced later this week.
Although Auriemma was reportedly a driving force behind the scenes to pursue the move to the Big East, it won’t affect the day-to-day operation of the team.
“We’re going to play who’s on our schedule,” Auriemma said. “We play who we’re supposed to play. I don’t think it changes anything in how we approach our jobs, what we’re going to do. If this were to happen and it’s finally announced, this is what is going to happen, then you start to adjust to a new environment.”
For Auriemma and men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley, the move to the Big East is major win, escaping the American and getting commitment from the university and the athletic department that basketball is the main priority. Other coaches aren’t as fortunate.
Going forward, Auriemma envisions a world where schools aren’t attached to entire conferences, but rather pick a handful of conferences that work best for certain sports.
“Some conferences are stronger in some sports then they are in others. Some are more advantageous for you to be in some sports than others,” Auriemma said. “Maybe that’s the future of college sports... It’s almost like there should be a league for football and basketball. And then another league for field hockey and another one for ice hockey and one for baseball. Everyone should be in the league they think they can compete best in and have the most success. That’s an ideal world for me.”
Ironically, that conference did once exist for basketball in the form of the original Big East.
“If you think back, we were part of the best conference that ever existed. The Big East as it existed with the football schools and the Catholic schools, I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it before or since. The only way people could beat us was to break up the conference,” Auriemma said. “It was a great decision by us and football wise it was a great decision because Randy had us in a Fiesta Bowl. It was a great decision and then because of circumstances outside of our control, it fell apart.”
Sadly, while UConn is returning to its former home, at least nominally, Geno acknowledges it won’t be the same. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Auriemma still believes it has the potential to engage fans enough to pack arenas like they did nearly a decade ago, even if it might not bring fans back to the good old days.
“It can’t be nostalgia because the other league doesn’t exist the way it did when we left. It’s like saying you’re moving back to your hometown but the block you lived on and half the city is gone. It’s not the same. I don’t think it’s as much about nostalgia, although our fans have been screaming for six years to be in the Big East.
“If this does happen there better be 16,000 at the XL Center every night.”