In a recent mailbag, the Hartford Courant's Dom Amore was asked just how much UConn's relegation to a conference-currently-without-a-name that will lack the basketball cachet of the Big East we once knew will affect recruiting.
The easy answer: a lot.
Amore offers a more nuanced take but one that ultimately comes back to the two-word observation we offered in the paragraph above.
Yes, recruiting is going to be more difficult if UConn remains in this yet-to-be-named league with this new slate of opponents. No way around it.
For many years, UConn has played in a league that was one of the best, and often the best, in the country. Important Big East games, and its league tournament, got the lion’s share of national exposure and recruits all over the country saw that. Jim Calhoun, as he told Michael Kay on YES Network’s Center Stage a while back, got recruits to come and play in the middle of nowhere because the league was a destination.
Now, the league is the middle of nowhere – so the school has to be the destination.
Without well-established rivalries with the likes of Syracuse and Georgetown, UConn has again become the middle of nowhere. Maybe not quite a basketball backwater -- it's hard to ascribe those characteristics to a program with three national titles -- but a lot closer than we might admit.
Put another way: the only "destination" program at Connecticut is coached by Geno Auriemma. The women's basketball team could relocate to Antarctica and still be a top-3 program year in and year out. The conference reshuffling won't affect them one bit because Auriemma already has his team playing one of the nation's toughest schedules, and even with the loss of Notre Dame to the ACC, it's reasonable to expect that rivalry to continue across conference boundaries.
The men have no such luxury, which puts the university in an untenable spot. If there are hopes of blowing this popsicle stand for the ACC, the football and basketball teams need to be better than mediocre. It's a taller task for football, but men's basketball also faces some challenges that will be tough to overcome.