At Connecticut, the UConn athletic department saw its annual deficit grow to $41 million in 2018. The solution? Leave the AAC.
The Courant has confirmed through sources that UConn is indeed headed to the Big East for all sports the conference sponsors. The conference doesn’t sponsor hockey, so UConn will remain in the competitive Hockey East, and it does not sponsor football. That raises plenty of questions as to what will happen to UConn’s football program.
That may leave plenty of questions, but there aren’t a lot of good answers. Dennis Dodd reports (and Dan Wolken confirms) that the AAC won’t allow UConn to remain as a football-only member, so that leaves two options: find another conference (the Big East doesn’t support football) or go independent.
Just because those are options doesn’t mean they’re attractive options.
Looking for a new conference makes some sense. It would give UConn guaranteed TV revenue. But it puts the Huskies in the same situation as it faces in the AAC: guaranteed games against opponents UConn fans have no investment in. Early speculation is the Mid-Atlantic Conference would make some sense, but how excited will fans be to watch Akron, Toledo and Central Michigan? Football attendance has plummeted the last 10 years and likely wouldn’t see a bump with those teams.
Going independent could set UConn up with opponents fans might get excited about. But it comes without guaranteed money going in and could come with struggles to set up opponents in the first few years because so many programs set schedules years in advance. UConn could always try to set up a TV deal, but again, nothing is guaranteed.
On top of that, the school has to pay the AAC $10 million to leave and some entry fee to join the Big East. How bad does its arrangement with the AAC have to be to lay out that kind of money on top of a $41 million deficit?
Quite simply, the AAC and UConn were just never a good fit. The Huskies got caught when the biggest Division I athletic conferences realigned earlier this decade. UConn hoped to find a home in the ACC or the Big Ten and gladly would have taken a spot in the Big 12 if the first two didn’t work out.
UConn lacked long, big-time football history but trends showed good football would lead to a good payday with TV contracts. So officials banded together with others who were left on the outside — Houston, Central Florida, Memphis, etc. — and constructed the AAC.
Geographically, it only made sense for TV dollars. Some of the biggest markets were brought into the fold. And while the $1 billion, 12-year deal the AAC just inked with ESPN is nothing to laugh at, the annual payment of about $7 million for UConn just isn’t close enough to what the Power Five conference teams receive.
UConn officials also felt the AAC-ESPN deal limited the school’s exposure, moving many games to a streaming service platform and off linear TV.
If they’re trying to measure their take against what P5 teams are pulling in from TV, good luck with that. Nor does UConn has a financial situation comparable to basketball powerhouses like Kentucky or Louisville, both of which are able to supplement conference broadcast revenues with robust basketball programs. Still, overall, it’s a plus for the Huskies’ basketball programs. As for football,
It will be a disaster for UConn football.
Fewer than nine years after the Huskies played in the Fiesta Bowl, they’re waving the white flag on ever reaching such lofty heights again. They’re surrendering any hopes of eventually being invited to the ACC or the Big 12. They’re acknowledging that they have screwed up so bad the last half-decade in football that the only way they can save their athletic department is to cut and run from a conference that’s actually trying to compete with the big boys.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Randy Edsall, except he’s part of the problem the school faces.
When Randy Edsall came back to UConn in 2017 after back-to-back disastrous hires in Paul Pasqualoni and Bob Diaco, the idea was that he could make the program attractive enough to get back in those conversations. Instead, two years into Edsall’s second stint, it has gone backward and ended last season as the worst program in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
UConn football has cupcake written all over it for the foreseeable future. Enjoy life on the road, fellas.