The American Athletic Conference was a marriage of convenience, and it’s never been very convenient for UConn. A school that envisions epic battles on the hardwood with Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown woke up and found itself playing football games against Tulsa, Tulane and SMU.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with playing football against said schools, it’s just that it’s never been the goals of UConn’s athletics department. And now it seems the school is prepared to make moves to realign — get it? — its athletics department’s reality with its vision for itself.
Digital Sports Desk first reported on Friday night, which has since been confirmed by Yahoo‘s Pete Thamel, that the school is preparing to leave the American and rejoin the Big East. UConn was a founding (non-football) member of the conference, standing alongside Boston College, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse. As part of the Great Realignment Shuffle of the 2010s, the Big East lost its power conference status in football and rebranded itself as a non-football league — keeping Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova while adding like-minded private institutions like Butler, Xavier and Creighton. UConn, which beefed up its FCS football program to strengthen its standing in the original Big East, soon found that the industry-wide game of musical chairs had stopped and it was left standing, forcing the Huskies to take their prized basketball program into the upstart American Athletic Conference to find a home for its football program.
The Huskies experienced a brief uptick during Randy Edsall’s first tenure — they won the Big East, with an 8-4 record, and played in the Fiesta Bowl in the 2010 season — but those days are gone. The program has fallen on hard financial times — Edsall has financed his offensive coordinator’s raise out of his own salary — and it’s led the university to ask why it’s in the American in the first place.
So, UConn is reportedly making moves to return its Olympic sports to the Big East. None of the particulars have commented on the record but, generally speaking, if a report like this was untrue, someone would come out and knock it down — and no one’s doing that, at least right now.
Furthermore, this statement from UConn says the school is a happy American member, but note it does not say the school remain so into the future.
Statement from UConn: “It is our responsibility to always be mindful of what is in the best interest of our student athletes, our fans and our future. With that being said, we have been and remain proud members of the American Athletic Conference.”
— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) June 22, 2019
All of this leaves the question of what happens to the football program, and how the American adjusts if and when the Huskies do leave. There doesn’t appear to be a hard answer right now. Thamel speculated the Huskies could remain in FBS as an independent — they could ask neighbor UMass how that’s going — but the smart move seems to be to swallow their pride and return to FCS. UConn played in the Yankee Conference from 1947-96 and the Atlantic-10 from 1997-99; the Yankee no longer exists and the A-10, like the Big East, no longer sponsors football. However, the Colonial Athletic Association would seemingly be happy to take a state school with a Fiesta Bowl berth on its resume as a football-only member.
As for the American, Thamel speculates the league could add another football-only member to pair with Navy (perhaps Army? Air Force? BYU?) while adding a basketball power as a non-football member, as it did with Wichita State (perhaps VCU?).
There’s a lot of moves still to be made here, but it seems like a divorce between UConn and the American could be the best move for all parties.