There is little doubt that UConn has been hit hardest among the remaining Big East schools with all the changes to the conference lineup, considering its close basketball ties with the seven departing hoops members.
After all, the Huskies are a founding member of the Big East, which started in 1979 as a basketball conference. They only later joined in football in 2004, shortly after its program was elevated to the FBS level. I am sure it is not lost on many UConn supporters that the state of its football program -- in its FBS infancy -- was one of the deciding factors in the ACC choosing Louisville over the Huskies last month.
Given the changing membership, many UConn fans have wondered just what school leaders are doing, and whether the Huskies have any chance at leaving the Big East. UConn has made it no secret that it desires to be in the ACC, and may have believed it would coast right in when Maryland left.
So what now? School president Susan Herbst issued a statement Wednesday trying to put Huskies supporters at ease, writing defiantly and optimistically. In part, she writes:
As you know, conference realignment continues at a rapid pace and UConn has new challenges we must face. I do not know when or how things will settle; no one does. There is more change to come that will reshape the landscape yet again. I assure you that the Big East presidents are both unified and optimistic, working to strengthen the conference in imaginative ways that will see us through to a bright future for our students, coaches, and fans. Commissioner Mike Aresco is an outstanding leader at an extraordinarily complex time, and our university partners represent powerful, high-quality institutions that we are proud to join with in this conference.
I realize that this is aggravating to hear, but as in all things, we can only affect what is in our control. As a result, we strive for excellence at UConn daily across all departments, something very much in our control. We stand tall at UConn and we need not beg, plead, nor despair. That is not who we are, and my reading of our university history -- from 1881 to today -- conveys the pride of every generation, in good times and bad.
There are profound concerns about the future of collegiate athletics of course. I speak often to presidents across the nation, and we are hardly alone in our worries. Even many seemingly "secure" universities are fearful of the changes to come, not only in the realm of realignment, and hope for a long-term stability that seems elusive right now.
She goes on to assure supporters to ignore the naysayers, that "all will be well" when realignment settles.
The truth is, UConn has no choice but to play nice with the Big East and all remaining members right now, because there is not much of an option. So it goes without saying that league presidents are unified. They have to make the best out of a bad situation.
But when the conference winds start shifting again, you can bet UConn will do whatever it can to fight for a spot somewhere else. It has already done so twice in the past 16 months.
What it must do is put its academic problems behind it, and focus on making sure football can get back to winning games and headed back to bowls. Its basketball programs must remain on top. When the ACC discussed Louisville's inclusion, North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp said, "What the ACC needed the most was to add the most exciting sports program that we could. ... We felt that Louisville unambiguously did that for us the best."
UConn clearly has some work to do.
One other note I want to point out, and this is way bigger than conference realignment: UConn has established a memorial scholarship fund to send survivors of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary to UConn. I applaud the university for its efforts. Those interested in more information can click here.