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UConn’s move to the Big East on track despite pandemic

COVID-19 has not stopped UConn from working closely with the Big East ahead of its official first day as a member.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament- St. John’s vs Creighton Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, much of the sports world is on pause. Though college sports ended this past spring before basketball or hockey could finish, and right as baseball was getting started, UConn fans still had July 1 to look forward to. Once that date finally hits, UConn will officially move out of the American Athletic Conference and into the Big East.

In the opening statement of a conference call with the media last week, Ackerman acknowledged that while the Huskies aren’t officially in yet, they’ve been extremely involved as the conference navigates college athletics amid the pandemic.

“We have already started integrating UConn staff and their coaches into our meetings and planning. So putting the the events of the day aside, we do expect a very smooth transition and know that many exciting renewed rivalries and some new ones are very much on the horizon,” Ackerman added.

Even before basketball gets underway, UConn can rehash old rivalries in men’s soccer against the likes of St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown. Of course, that assumes that men’s soccer and the other fall sports will even be played this coming season. While that decision is still weeks away from even needing to be made, one thing is especially clear; Ackerman and the Big East will not play fall sports if they don’t feel it’s safe to do so.

“If our campuses aren’t open, we will not have athletes coming back, for sports events or activities,” Ackerman said. “We had a board call last night with our 10 presidents. We have another meeting with them in three weeks. Like most presidents around the country, they’re essentially in a wait and see mode. They have advised us that the window for these opening decisions which again will inform the decisions relative to sports are likely to be made probably in late June or early July.”

While that deadline is fast approaching, the decision on basketball has slightly more wiggle room since things don’t really start up until mid to late-October. That being said, Ackerman anticipates there may be a domino effect if delays or cancellations occur early in the fall semester - especially for Big East schools like UConn that offer football.

“I would think you would probably be able to wait until maybe Labor Day would be my guess, about, you know, when when you might need to be able to know so that you can deal with travel particularly,” Ackerman said. “And you know, and you have time to kind of set up whatever protocols would be needed to get practices going. And then of course, get your venues ready for games. I don’t think the NCAA is as far along as it needs to be right now in building out this timeline for basketball.”

Basketball is obviously top of mind for Ackerman and the Big East, and it’s easy to see how the lack of clarity can be frustrating. With no NCAA tournament this past spring, the Big East missed out on more tournament win shares. For a conference that has won two national championships in the last five years, that’s some serious cash that UConn and their former conference foes in the American were never earning.

Per Ackerman, the NCAA will pay out reduced shares for 2020 to help soften the blow of losing the NCAA tournament. Shares are normally paid out starting the year after and continuing for six years, so with no tournament this year, the financial impact could go on for years to come, even as things return to normal.

“Units are not paid right away. They’re paid out over a six year period starting next year. So this year 2020, there are zero units that were earned. So the NCAA now is trying to figure that out so we all have a sense of certainty for budget planning and the like, how we’re going to manage, what happened and what that means for budgets and the conference as well as the institutional level,” Ackerman said.

Even though there are plenty of logistical and financial hoops to get through, Ackerman still has hopes that next year’s Big East Tournament - and UConn’s much-awaited return to Madison Square Garden in March - can go on as planned.

“We’re hopeful that the Big East Tournament next year at the Garden will be as great as ever, if not more. So, for now, hopefully the winter and spring sports next year will be good to go,” Ackerman said. “But as I said, given the times we’re living in here, and what we’ve already been through once, I think you have to kind of be ready for everything, and we’re gonna try to do that.”