Since UConn’s exit from the American Athletic Conference to the Big East, there’s been plenty of talk — both from within the athletic department and in the media — about why the Huskies left, what the move means, how the financials and television deals will work out, among many other things.
UConn Athletic Director David Benedict has already hit on a number of those topics at various points in the last month but recently appeared on the Husky Insider Podcast to delve into further detail. Here are some of the highlights:
Some quotes have been edited for clarity and/or brevity.
The fall of men’s basketball
With the UConn men’s basketball team coming off three straight losing seasons, Benedict said the team’s fall since 2016 was a big factor in the change of conferences.
“When you get to UConn, my perception of coming was it’s not if we’re going to make the NCAA Tournament every year, it’s how far are we gonna go in the tournament? And three years later you haven’t been, yeah you’re concerned,” he said. “For us to be relevant and for us to maintain the national brand that’s been built, that’s something we’ve got to get back to doing quickly.”
However, Benedict was quick to point out the team’s lack of success doesn’t fall solely on the conference. There were other factors [cough, Kevin Ollie] that also contributed to that. But ultimately, he felt the program had a better chance to return to its lofty standards in the Big East than in the American.
“I don’t think there’s any question being a northeastern program, being in a conference that values basketball the way the Big East does, is going to have a huge and significant impact on us and will allow us — it’s not a guarantee — but it certainly will allow us, it’ll put us back in a position to return to that level of prominence within a conference that is very well-respected from a basketball standpoint,” Benedict said.
Life as an FBS independent
At least in the short-term, the biggest question facing the football team’s move to independence is who UConn can put on its schedule in 2020. Considering most schools build non-conference schedules years in advance — the Huskies already have Lafayette locked in for 2026 — building a 12-game schedule in a little more than a calendar year will certainly be a challenge.
“The first couple years are going to be a little bit more challenging to put and structure a schedule that is what you really want,” Benedict said. “We might have to play some games that aren’t necessarily what we would choose to do.”
Despite that, Benedict believes that once they get through the first years, the Huskies should be able to build quality schedules. He said there are three important considerations for building a schedule as an independent: What recruits want, what current players want and what fans want. Benedict is confident in UConn’s ability to create 12-game slates that will leave all three groups happy.
“I know a lot of people might think that sounds crazy because it can be difficult as an independent, but I think we’re unique. We have a unique proposition in front of us,” Benedict said. “I think if you look at our non-conference schedule both this year with Indiana and Illinois and looking out, we play a lot of other Power 5 opponents in Purdue, Boston College, Syracuse, North Carolina State, Clemson — the list goes on and on.
“Our ability to attract those types of opponents just for four non-conference games in the past, our ability to add more of those types of games and series to our schedule in the future now that we have eight other games to schedule, I’m excited about that proposition. I think we’re going to be successful in doing that.”
A P5 invite wasn’t coming
One of the biggest concerns from UConn fans that aren’t happy with the move to the Big East is that it shuts the door on a potential invitation to a Power 5 conference. But according to Benedict, that simply isn’t a realistic possibility (something we touched on in our latest podcast).
“If you just look at things based on the current landscape and the current construct, it’s very difficult to imagine any current Power 5 conferences bringing another member institution into their league that can’t generate the type of money that they’re currently getting,” he said. “That’s not my opinion, we talked to a lot of people in the industry in all areas of it...it would be much more likely that the CFP would change and expand versus there’s going to be more realignment that you’re going to see teams moving into the Power 5 that are currently not there. Based on the things I know, that’s my best guess.”
Women’s hoops on ESPN+ was a major concern
When the new AAC media deal with ESPN was announced, one of the biggest concerns from fans was in regards to UConn basketball games — both men’s and women’s — going behind the paywall of ESPN+. But on the podcast, Benedict seemed to single out the women’s basketball games that would’ve been taken off linear television as the school’s biggest concern gripe with the deal.
“We have the best women’s college athletic program brand, bar none, in the country, in history,” Benedict said. “So you’re talking about, in my opinion, the most valuable asset in college women’s athletics. So we were concerned because at least in this point in time, with a plan moving forward, we were concerned about the potential of that brand and that program not necessarily having the type of exposure that it’s had in the past...that was concerning. (But) it’s not why we made the change.”
Aside from that, Benedict praised it.
“The new TV deal was great,” he said. “It was a big step for the American Athletic Conference, in dollars and in a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of great things that are going to come about because of the new TV deal for the American Athletic Conference.”
Benedict also noted that not all UConn games are on linear television now anyways and he didn’t eliminate the option of using a streaming service — such as ESPN+, for example — as a way to broadcast games in the future.
“I don’t know that we would’ve been on television every week (for football). There’s other platforms that we would’ve been on and will be on this year. We’ll probably have some ESPN3 games as we’ve had in the past,” Benedict said. “Moving forward, I’m sure we would’ve had a lot of games on plus which there’s a lot of value in being in a situation that anyone anywhere can jump on their phone or their iPad or even jump on a smart TV and watch the games. There’s lots of different ways that we can get the type of media coverage the way we want.”