(WTNH)–So, the Big 12 decided not to expand. Shocking, we know.
After months of sending out mixed, cryptic messages, perpetuating false hope and generally acting like a popular teenage girl trying to decide who she wants to go to prom with, the conference decided it would rather stay home and wash its hair.
At least now Huskies fans can stop pretending to care about becoming rivals with Iowa State.
This isn’t the worst outcome for UConn. That would have been if the Big 12 had decided to take Houston and Cincinnati, leaving the Huskies in a glorified Conference USA.
But it’s just another rejection in what’s become the most frustrating, distasteful freeze-out in sports. And you thought Mets fans had little-brother syndrome.
Though this is another setback, it isn’t the end of UConn’s power-five dream.
How can the Huskies become a power-five conference member in the future? Let’s take a look at the possibilities:
Notre Dame joins the ACC as a full-time member.
The Irish are currently independent in football, but play in the ACC in most other sports. If Notre Dame ever decided to break its longstanding tradition of gridiron independence and join the ACC full-time, it would leave the conference with an uneven number of teams (15). The ACC might consider expanding at that point, and UConn, along with Cincinnati, would figure to be the two most logical candidates.
Of course, this scenario is unlikely, because the Irish still have their own national television deals with NBC, ABC and ESPN, and would likely command more money on their own than they ever could as a member of a conference, where they’d have to share the wealth. And if we’ve learned anything during this decade-long debacle that’s been conference realignment, it’s not that college presidents enjoy sharing.
The Big Ten decides to expand again.
The Big Ten went east once, adding Rutgers and Maryland and opening up the mid-atlantic television market for its gluttonous Big Ten Network.
As is the case for any television conglomorate, content is king, and adding two more schools (and markets) would give BTN the potential for more viewers, and more advertising dollars.
Adding blueblood men’s and women’s basketball programs like UConn’s would make a lot of sense programming-wise, but the Huskies don’t even need an invite to the conference for things to work out in their favor.
If the Big Ten poached another couple of ACC schools (say, Boston College and Pittsburgh), it could open up a spot for the Huskies (and maybe Cincinnati) in the ACC.
The Big 12 revisits expansion.
The Big 12 isn’t exactly known for its strong leadership and conviction, as it proved over the last six months. And TV partners can be fickle.
Right now, ESPN and Fox have made the decision that a $20 million payout per year, per expanded school isn’t worth the added inventory they’d be receiving. Given the fact that ESPN is headquartered in Bristol and gets millions of dollars in tax breaks from the state of Connecticut each year, this is an interesting decision. Perhaps our state will re-consider its relationship with ESPN, or maybe the network will begin to advocate for UConn instead of actively working against it.
Geography and football tradition still work against the Huskies in the Big 12 expansion race, so who knows if they ever had a serious shot anyway. But as we’ve seen throughout the conference realignment process, everything is subject to change.
Even if none of the above scenarios come to fruition, there is one other option some Huskies fans would welcome:
UConn joins the Big East in basketball, stays in the AAC or joins another mid-major conference in football
This obviously isn’t the ideal outcome for UConn, as it would be losing out on millions in power-conference football money. That would put the Huskies at a huge financial disadvantage in the race to compete with power-5 schools on the basketball court as well.
But at least UConn fans would get to see their teams go up against old-school rivals like Georgetown, Providence, and defending national champion Villanova, instead of Tulsa, East Carolina and SMU.
The point about Villanova is an important one, too. Maybe, as the Wildcats proved last spring, you don’t need all of that power conference blood money to build a winner.
Maybe all you need is a terrific coach (check), a passionate fan base (check), and a commitmment to continued success (check).
So none of the power conferences want UConn? That’s fine.
Sometimes the little brother packs the biggest punch.