Monday night the Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team won their 4th national championship since 1999. That’s more national titles than the Big 10 conference has won in the 4 biggest collegiate sports – Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Football, and Baseball combined. There was the 2002 National Title in Football for Ohio State, and the 2000 Men’s Basketball Title by Michigan St. and yea that’s it for the Big 10. That Connecticut is by FAR the best women’s basketball program isn’t even a question. They have won a whopping 8 National Titles since 1999 including Tuesday night against Notre Dame.
The baseball team has made NCAA baseball tournament 3 of the last 4 years, and the football team went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2011, though they have had a couple of down years since. The point is Connecticut is a top-notch athletic school, and they are mired in the American Athletic Conference. Now while it may not be fair, that the Power 5 conferences (Big 12, Big 10, SEC, ACC and Pac 12) have separated themselves from the rest of college athletics, that’s exactly what has happened.
They’ve locked up contract bowls in the new 4 team playoff, their television contracts dwarf the rest of the country, and they are already in the process of trying to gain more autonomy through NCAA rule changes.
Credible athletic department like UCONN’s are on the outside looking in. The only way to join the party is through invitation to one of the Power 5 conferences. UCONN has no chance with two of the Power 5 conferences. While geographical sense in conference realignment is sometimes thrown to the wind, Connecticut will not be joining the Pac 12 or SEC. That leaves the Big 12, ACC and Big 10. We’ll go through each one…
At only 10 schools, I think eventually the Big 12 will have to expand. While they are fine for the time being, they have the smallest footprint of any conference. West Virginia sits on alone on eastern island. In a decade or so you don’t think West Virginia would jump at the chance to join eastern partners if invited? UCONN, West Virginia, and a Cincinnati would give the Big 12 a group of 3 eastern schools. However I don’t think this scenario is likely. The Big 12 hasn’t shown any inclination to expand at least for now.
Connecticut was long thought to eventually be an ACC school. The conference is probably culturally the best fit for the Huskies, but when the ACC had the opportunity to take UCONN in 2012 they passed in favor of Louisville. Previous to that in 2011, the ACC picked Syracuse and Pitt over UCONN. Apparently Boston College was one of the primary reasons UCONN was kept out. Yea those two schools don’t like each other.
Is the ACC/UCONN fit over with. No… not in the business of realignment, where you could be suing former conference partners one minute, then joining them next month. That said I don’t believe the ACC has any desire to expand at the moment. At 14 schools plus Notre Dame, scheduling and logistics are already becoming an issue, and Louisville hasn’t even joined yet. I agree UCONN makes some sense, but the southern football schools won’t accept another northern school primarily known for basketball without a football power joining. That means unless Notre Dame walks through that door as a full member, I don’t see UCONN as member for now.
Now 5 years ago, I would have said no away would UCONN would ever join the Big 10. Times have changed. Jim Delany has made no secret about his desire to move east. The Big 10′s recent moves to invite Maryland and Rutgers are evidence of that. I’m not all that sure Delany is as interested in winning titles as he is gaining cable subscribers, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind to have a couple in his conference’s trophy case.
UCONN provides a new market, a women’s basketball program that is sure to win more titles, and an elite men’s basketball program. Maryland’s move to the Big 10 has been messy court fight with the ACC, and is not likely to be settled anytime soon. UCONN provides an eastern school, that could leave the AAC yesterday. I’ll be honest this really seems like future fit. It wouldn’t shock me to see UCONN as a member of the Big 10 sometime in the next 3-5 years. Does Big 10 needed partner to join with UCONN? It wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not a necessity. The Big 10 functioned just fine with 11 teams for nearly 20 years, after Penn State joined in 1990.