It was announced over the weekend that the UConn Huskies would leave the American Athletic Conference for the Big East, effective 2020-21 seasons in all sports, except football.
This is huge news, and undoubtedly the right move, and a long time coming, for the Huskies basketball program. UConn belongs in the Big East because of it’s storied history there and because of it’s proximity to local teams like Providence, St John’s, Seton Hall.
But while everyone is focused on the positives and the excitement this brings to UConn and college basketball as a whole, people continue to slander the AAC and continue to praise UConn for the program they once were and not the program they have been the last few years.
I am sick and tired of hearing UConn fans and mainstream media blast the AAC and use it as a reason why UConn has struggled the last few years.
“We’re too good for this conference”
The last three years of Huskies basketball have been really disappointing, but rather than take ownership of the failures, people have been quick to blame AAC for UConn’s struggles.
Fans and media will have you believe that UConn was always “too good for the AAC”. Well here are some facts – Huskies never won won the AAC championship. They finished third in conference in 2014 but other than that never finished higher than sixth. In each of the last three years, UConn has finished below .500 (46-52 overall) and 22-32 in AAC play. They have a losing record vs Tulsa (3-6), SMU (4-8), Temple (6-7), to name a few.
And yes, I know about all of the National Championships from the past, including the most recent one in 2014. But fans and media have everyone believing UConn is too good for this conference and that could not be further from the truth. How can you be too good if you can’t win?
“We struggled because the conference stinks”
On one hand, UConn is too good for the AAC, despite their lack of success. But on the other hand, their lack of success is because the conference stinks. Excuses, excuses…
“The reason for their struggles was because of the conference, because you can’t recruit in the AAC.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Here is UConn’s recruiting ranks each year in the AAC
- 21 in 2019
- 117 in 2018 (coaching transition year)
- 84 in 2017
- 8 in 2016
- 47 in 2015
- 46 in 2014
Those are pretty good recruiting classes, which means UConn should have been pretty good! But they weren’t because the conference stinks I guess, or something like that.
Cincinnati has not produced many highly ranked recruiting classes or even individual top recruits, yet they have made the tournament every year in the AAC. Good coaching means something. (yes, they didn’t have success in March, but making the tournament is still better than not…). Memphis has the #1 recruiting class in the country (IN THE COUNTRY!). Out of the AAC. Tell me again, what’s UConn’s excuse?
“No one wants to play in Tulsa on a Tuesday night”
I keep hearing Tulsa used as the dart board for reasons why the AAC geographically stinks. I get it, UConn wants local opponents from their past, they want to play at MSG.
Maybe the AAC does lack exciting opponents – I get why UConn fans wouldn’t be super psyched to see Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina come to Storrs/Hartford. But how come Cincinnati and Houston have been selling out their arenas against those opponents? Is it possible that it’s more than just the opponents and that attendance is down because the team has struggled?
As noted above, Tulsa has a winning record vs UConn since the start of the AAC. But keep telling me how they are beneath UConn.
Jim Calhoun is a legend
In hindsight, Jim Calhoun deserves so much more credit for what UConn was during his tenure. I don’t think being in the Big East will help UConn get back to the level they once were, though it should help a little bit. The level they once were is credited solely to Calhoun. Kevin Ollie and now Bobby Hurley have done what they can recruiting and it will definitely help Hurley to have a Big East logo on his chest, but this still isn’t the same Big East. And this isn’t the same UConn. And it never again will be.
“MSG has all the appeal”
Everyone points to “the mecca of basketball” New York City as a big draw for the Big East. But here’s the truth – many teams from all over the country play in NYC and Madison Square Garden. You don’t have to play at UConn or play in the Big East to play at MSG.
Here’s a list of teams that played at MSG in 2018 – West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida, Oklahoma, Iowa, Oregon (among others). In recent years, AAC teams like Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis have all played at The Garden.
Bottom line is, there are many ways to play in Madison Square Garden, than to just play in the Big East.
AAC Will Survive and Thrive
AAC basketball has been very strong the past few years and will continue to move forward. Reminder, even though “the Big East is clearly superior to the AAC”, both conferences had the same amount of NCAA Tournament teams in 2019.
Despite the public’s perception, AAC will not struggle without UConn. Huskies have been irrelevant the last three years and outside of their first season in the conference, in 2013-14 when they won the National Championship as an 7 seed, they haven’t been a factor at all in the AAC race.
Sure. UConn represents a strong brand name. But Memphis also has a strong brand name and they enter 2019-20 with the #1 recruiting class and a big name coach in Penny Hardaway. Cincinnati has been to the NCAA Tournament 9 straight times and should be on track for #10. Houston is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance in 2019 and UCF and Temple both made the tournament as well. Wichita State took a step back, but they are a house hold name who should be back in the tourney picture in 2020.
Don’t disrespect the AAC – it’s a very strong, quality basketball conference who has survived the last three years without UConn and will now move forward without their brand name as well.
What about Football?
The consensus on twitter and social media seems that UConn will be Independent beginning in 2020. I think fans have a much different perception of how Independence works vs. the reality of the situation.
The reality is that it is not easy to be independent. UConn will struggle to find home-and-home series with 12 teams a year, because it will be hard to find teams that straight up want to come to Storrs and quite franky UConn doesn’t have the money to pay teams for “buy games”.
Also, what incentive is there for players to come to UConn now that there is no conference championship at stake. And now that the strength of schedule might take a serious dip. “Come to UConn – if we win 6 games, we’ll celebrate by playing a bowl game in St Petersburg or Boise.” That sounds like the saddest recruiting pitch of all time.
It’s a small sample size, yes, but UConn is not that much different from schools like UMass and New Mexico State (also Independents). UConn is incomparable to Notre Dame, BYU, and Army (despite folks’ best efforts to try).
There is no market, no audience for UConn football. Whatever television deal they got (something local, like SNY/MSG) wouldn’t gross one quarter of the revenue that the AAC TV deal would. And if they play half (or more) of their games on the road, what’s even the point?
UConn is simply better off simply folding the football program and putting all of their resources into basketball. It’s what’s best for the school.