At the beginning of the month, as the men's basketball team was preparing for Final Four foe Kentucky, we wrote about the long history between the two coaches. Jim Calhoun and John Calipari go way back, to the early '90s when Calipari was then the UMass coach.
The Minutemen were gaining in national prominence, thanks largely to Calipari. According to the Boston Globe's Mark Blaudschun, Calipari once remarked that “We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime,'" presumably in an effort to get the Huskies on the schedule.
Calhoun's response at the time: “Calipari said he plays a national schedule, so obviously he doesn’t need us. We play Kansas and Duke, and we think those are pretty good teams. We’re happy with who we are playing now."
The Huskies got the last laugh, defeating the Wildcats in the Final Four two days before winning their third national championship.
Now it appears there will be another means for renewing this rivalry. Last week, UMass announced that the football program is moving to the FBS and joining the MAC conference beginning in 2012. One problem, though: some fans are worried that UMass' new status could hurt UConn's recruiting efforts.
The response from ESPN.com's Brian Bennett during a recent Q & A:
"I wouldn't worry too much about the recruiting aspect. UMass might pose more competition for players in the Northeast, but if you can't outrecruit the MAC as a school in an [automatic qualifier] league, you've got much bigger problems. This might have been more of a concern for the Huskies if Randy Edsall were still the coach, since his recruiting philosophy centered around under-the-radar players. But Paul Pasqualoni was hired in large part for his ability to connect with high school coaches and recruit high-caliber players. If that's true, he shouldn't lose out to UMass on many prospects.
Great points, all of them, and the Hartford Courant's Desmond Connor agrees, writing that "Until the program upgrades those facilities and becomes part of a BCS conference it poses no real threat to UConn anywhere."
Bennett adds an interesting footnote: "UMass-UConn is a natural rivalry, though I don't think the Huskies should accept a home-and-home series. A 2-for-1 is a better deal for them."
This also makes sense; UMass would get more out of hosting UConn than the other way around. For now, anyway.