UConn Now Part of Big East’s ‘Left Behinds’

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NBC Connecticut

We wrote about the ACC's grant-of-rights deal last month and it basically says this: the 15 current members will remain in the conference through the ESPN television contract, which expires in 2026-27. Put another way: this is bad, bad news for UConn, a university looking for a new conference home pretty much since all the reshuffling started nearly two years ago.

On Tuesday, CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler explained what this grant-of-rights deal means for the left behinds, specifically: UConn, Cincinnati and USF. Once big names in the Big East with hopes of something more. Now they are three schools stuck in the new American Athletic Conference with no way out.

The ACC's grant of rights, coupled with Notre Dame's part-time football commitment, brings the league's revenue to more than $20 million per school annually, according to a league source.

AAC schools will get a little less than $2 million per year off a reported six-year, $126 million deal starting in 2013-14. The total pales in comparison to ESPN's billion-dollar-plus offer from two years ago -- before the AAC lost more than a dozen schools in basketball or football. At times, UConn, Cincy and USF outperformed old Big East defectors. But they came from the C-USA or independent ranks within the last 10 years. Perhaps they didn't have enough time to establish an identity or cachet that Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia developed.

Then there was UConn's run at the ACC to fill the spot left by Maryland, who accepted a place in the Big Ten. Ultimately, the ACC decided that Louisville made more sense than UConn, helping the Huskies into their current predicament. So what happened? Fowler explains.

"It wasn't UConn's Northeast footprint or its 21st national ranking among public universities that lost it. The lack of football tradition and game-day environment at Rentschler Field (capacity 40,000) did, according to an ACC source."

And that -- the mediocre football program by ACC standards -- that has been UConn's Achilles heel. The problem: even if coach Paul Pasqualoni spearheads a miraculous turnaround and the Huskies annually make it to bowl games, it could be a case of too little, too late. The big conferences, for the most part, appear set. And unless there's some major upheaval on the horizon that we don't know about, UConn will be a member of the AAC for the foreseeable future.

Put another way: UConn will have to make do with a less-than-perfect situation. The basketball teams will need to continue to win, and the football program has to find a way to become competitive, and find a way quickly. Because otherwise, the Huskies an intercollegiate afterthought.

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