UConn’s director of athletics and Twitter machine expert David Benedict has a big year ahead of him as the Huskies return to their rightful home in the Big East. UConn’s AD recently took time to chat with Huskies All-Access for a wide-ranging Q&A session. Below are some highlights.
When the coronavirus outbreak started to impact decision-making
“Things became real for us in Dallas for the American Athletic Conference tournament. The decision was made to cancel the AAC tournament, and shortly thereafter all of spring sports. It’s been a challenging time for our student athletes and coaches. These kids have worked for years for the right to compete for championships, and to have that stripped away so suddenly, and then to have it wrapped up into a pandemic that affects lives tragic ways, is a lot to take in.”
A brief update on where things ended with spring/winter sports:
Women’s hockey: They got to play for a conference championship, which outperformed the expectations they had. Excited for them.
Men’s hockey: Was probably playing as good as anybody in Hockey East going into the tournament, so there were high hopes there.
Women’s basketball: There were a lot of conversations around their season this year, but ultimately they lost to three of the top teams in the country. There probably was no one else who played collectively those three teams. There’s no shame in losing to those teams. Ultimately, who knows what would have happened in the NCAA’s. I wouldn’t put it past our program to have upset things and we don’t use that word with that program often. I think we were playing our best basketball and capable of beating anyone in the country.
Men’s basketball: Another year where we made progress in rebuilding the program to a place we expect. The first winning season since I’ve been here, so that was fun to see. It was nice to see Christian Vital have a great season, same with Alterique Gilbert.
Baseball: We expect great things from this program. We got some wins against top 5 teams early on. To compete at that level without practicing outside is difficult. It speaks volumes about Coach Penders and the program he’s built.
Softball: Laura Valentino was off to a great start her first year. Proud of those kids making the transition.
Women’s lacrosse: That program was off to a good start early on. Proud of the way they started.
On spring student eligibility
“It’s giving every student athlete four years of competition. The challenge now that its been approved is funding. The additional costs are being gone through to identify which seniors would consider coming back to play that additional year. Most student athletes in spring are equivalency scholarships, so they're given a portion. The decision to come back impacts both the university and the individual.”
How can fans help during these uncertain times
“Being supportive of the challenges they’re going through. Isolation can be difficult, so we’re trying to keep everyone engaged. We’re going to have great financial need, and while we don’t expect people to put UConn before their personal needs, but we’re going to need people to continue to financially support these great athletics programs.”
On making student tickets free again next year:
“We were fortunate to be make that change this past year. We plan on maintaining that program and providing students free tickets.”
Construction projects for softball and soccer stadiums during COVID-19
“We just don’t know at this point. There continue to be decisions made at the state and federal level that determine whether construction can continue. Right now, construction is taking place with the softball stadium. If we’re allowed, I don’t see any challenges to making sure that the new soccer facility or the new softball facility will be online as expected. But we are living in uncertain times now, so we’ll have to take it day-to-day.”
On the impact of the successful independent football scheduling
“We won’t know the true impact of it for a while. I am happy with the results. There were some risks that we took in making the decision to move to independent, but I was confident that the results were going to be positive. So far, so good. The feedback from fans has been fantastic. That’s not to say there are people that aren’t unhappy, but the number of people that have come up to me and shown excitement about the future scheduling has been so much more significant. I haven’t seen such excitement prior to this year. The number of people telling me they’re going to the Ole Miss game next year (assuming we play), I’m not sure where everyone will get the tickets. Hundreds of people have responded and are excited about partying in the Grove.”
On TV Deal with Football:
“We’re finalizing things. We feel very good about the future. I’m looking forward to announcing something soon.”
On throwback merchandise
**Dons Big East beanie** “We’re excited about all of the things going back to the Big East will bring about. Collectively, UConn nation has so many fond memories of our time in that conference. Throwback uniforms, our old Husky logos, those are things the fans want. You do them at appropriate times. We’re going to make sure we can give the fans what they want, whenever we can.”
On the impact of returning to the Big East for sports teams in general
“Student athlete welfare is talked about a lot. There are a lot of universities out there that are being asked to travel all over the country to compete. It’s very demanding when you add it with practice and the academic side of things, its difficult to manage. So rejoining a conference that is much more regionally appropriate is really great for our student athletes. We didn’t have many bus trips in the American. We’re going to have a lot more bus trips now. I’m excited from that standpoint, it will be better for our student athletes’ welfare. Plus, a lot of them come from the New England and northeast regions. They grew up watching these rivalries. There’s a lot of talk within our student athlete body of being excited to go back and play those teams again.”