Women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has never been shy about sharing what's on his mind. During a stint on WTIC radio Wednesday, he spoke frankly on a number of topics, most of them having to do with the university or the surrounding area.
Near the end of this appearance, he was asked about the future of UConn athletics, which has hit some rough waters in recent years, what with being ignored by the big conferences and left to fend for itself in the AAC.
“We have already been affected by it [conference realignment]," he said, via the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla. "We used to be a part of the best basketball league that ever existed [the Big East]. Go back two or three years and the Big East provided the best [college] basketball ever played, men and women.
“But football has taken the lead and the big five power conferences want to do their own things, separate from the NCAA, if possible, and have their own rules to do whatever they want, whenever they want and however they want. UConn had a choice. We could have moved forward without football and end up where the Big East is now, which I don’t know where that is. Or we could go with football and try to maximize it and create enough interest [in the school] that the [power] conferences might include us.
"How do you do that? Well, just winning at football isn’t enough. It’s the interest level [in the program that's important]. How many fans or viewers can you bring to the conference. If [admission] was just based on the success of a universities athletic department, how do you take Rutgers over Connecticut in the Big Ten if it was just about success?
“They tell you its academics, this and that. It’s about nothing but how many people in that area will watch the conference on television and are you [the school] in an area a conference wishes to expand. We had some issues that prevented us from getting into the ACC; there were some things we did back in the day, like suing the conference. We did a lot of dumb things that are still haunting us.
“But the only thing we can do now is this –- be the best athletic program we can be, the best university we can be and win the most games we can in every sport while selling out every stadium and venue we have. That will let everyone else in the country know that whether you like us or don’t like us, you are going to have to compete against us. That is the only thing we have control over.”
The men's and women's basketball teams are doing their parts. The big question is whether first-year football coach Bob Diaco can turn around a program that has floundered in recent years.