Wait, what? Basketball Is Kickstarting Realignment?

June 25, 2019 - 10:00 am

Realignment for basketball? What? Can they even do that?

Last week the University of Connecticut announced their intentions to leave the American Athletic Conference and seek entry into the Big East. But why? Why would a team that’s earning close to $7 million per year leave? Simply put, for the round ball. Joining the Big East – which currently houses programs like Butler, Georgetown, Providence, Villanova, and St Johns would set UConn in a galaxy of college basketball’s elite stars. But enough about basketball. What about football? Remember, we're talking about a program that played in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in 2010. But for the last few years UConn has been largely irrelevant in football. Since joining the AAC in 2013 UConn has gone 11-37 in conference play posting overall records of 3-9, 2-10, 6-7, 3-9, 3-9, and 1-11. The Big East doesn’t sponsor football. So is UConn leaving their football program to wilt on the vine? The prevailing thought at the moment is that the Huskies will join the Big East for Olympic sports and go independent in football. Is that even so bad? Yes…and no.

Independence would mean the Huskies are joining the likes of Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, and the University of Massachusetts. It sounds great to schedule whoever you want. But as we’ve seen with the newest FBS independents, scheduling is tough and UConn doesn’t have the same clout as Notre Dame. For example, Liberty and NMSU will play each other twice in 2018. Something about that feels wrong. Want to kill already weak attendance? Send a message to what fans you have left that their beloved program doesn’t matter by playing NMSU twice in the same season. Point: UConn football standing all by its lonesome can’t prosper.

So UConn leaving the AAC leaves the conference with 11 full time members. So who, if anybody, takes their place? Here are some options:

1) Do nothing and divide their Group of 5 leading money pot 11 ways instead of 12. (Under the previous NCAA rules conferences needed 12 members to hold a conference championship game, but that’s no longer the case)

2) Try to lure a current independent like BYU or Army to park their football programs in your league.

3) Look to the four remaining Group of 5 conferences to back-fill.

If the American chooses to do nothing then all stays quiet on the G5 front. BYU is interesting. BYU has history but Salt Lake is 2,300 miles from Tampa, home of USF. Army is interesting. They also have history and head coach Jeff Monken has the Black Knights back to relevance going 10-3 in 2017 and 11-2 in 2018. They would be an obvious fit with the Naval Academy (let alone the financial opportunities of having exclusive access to the Army-Navy game). Option 3, backfilling from a Group of 5 conference is where it gets muddy. Before we look at candidates we have to know what is Commissioner Mike Aresco’s strategy? Does he want media market potential or on-field performance? The American currently has membership in Orlando, Tampa, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, Dallas, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Tulsa. If “marketz” is his play you have to look at UAB, Toledo, Georgia State, and Charlotte. All big markets, but aside from UAB (who just unboxed their program after shuttering it for a year) none of these schools bring much success. If Aresco's strategy is performance why not take a look at App State? The Mountaineers are on fire since moving to the Sunbelt. As have been the Troy Trojans. But both schools have new coaches so who knows. Marshall has tremendous history but they’re sort of down right now. As are Southern Miss and Western Kentucky.

Ultimately all of the options have warts. Some are good at football but in small towns. Some are bad at football but in big markets. Some are independent but might want to maintain that.  But with all of us thinking the Big 12 would kick start realignment who would’ve thought it would spring from Storrs, Connecticut?

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