There is plenty of time to assess conference realignment's various winners and losers, and plenty of criteria by which we'll make those assessments in the weeks, months, and even years to come. It's a fluid situation, as the saying goes.
But if there's one school everyone pretty much everyone can agree got a raw deal in the past two years, it's Connecticut. The Huskies and their marquee basketball program spent much of the realignment fracas desperately (if not publicly) trying to escape the collapsing Big East for the ACC. They were spurned at every turn. Now, as the new reality comes into focus, Connecticut has traded the Big East for the American Athletic Conference and its ragtag band of TV-market-oriented additions. The Huskies now face the daunting task of maintaining a national athletics brand without the exposure and revenue provided by the old Big East.
How does UConn athletic director Warde Manuel -- who took over in Storrs, Conn., in February 2012 in the midst of the realignment scramble -- feel about all this? He's refusing to stress out, and he's "done" trying to find a new conference home. From the Associated Press:
"I've been done," Manuel said. "If my focus is always looking outside this organization and what we're doing, we're not going to maintain the success that we've had." [... Manuel] said UConn is not planning to cut any sports and he believes the school will have the TV exposure, money and opponents it will need to be nationally competitive. Too much, he said, has been made of which conference the Huskies call home.
"It's a business problem," he said. "My concern is the stability of UConn, and what we do at UConn. We're going to compete for national championships."
Which is exactly the attitude you'd expect Manuel to evince. What else is he going to do? Admit defeat? Come out and tell fans the Huskies had a good run in the Big East, but now it's time to scale back? Of course not. He's going to push on.
Mind over matter only goes so far. The AP quotes David Carter, executive director of the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute, who brings the real:
"It is difficult to think of the American Athletic Conference as anything but less than the Big East -- in terms of stature, brand strength, and overall positioning in the new landscape of college sports," Carter said. "And for strong college sports brands like UConn, this will have an impact."
What kind of an impact? On one hand, the murky nature of UConn's football affiliation could keep it from expanding at the same rate as schools like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville, other "basketball" schools whose new ACC home should help ensure a healthy football future going forward. On the other hand, does Connecticut really need a strong football team to succeed in the sports -- men's and women's basketball, naturally -- where it has notched the vast majority of its accomplishments in the past three decades? College football success may be more reliant than ever on conference affiliation, but hasn't the past decade of college hoops taught us that great programs (Memphis, Butler, Gonzaga, Xavier, to name the usual suspects) don't need a high-profile league to consistently win?
UConn fans may be distraught by the way realignment turned out for them, and the financial impact will be measurable. But who's to say hoops winters can't still be fun?