Column: It’s time to consider a Big East reunion

Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, left, talks with cornerback Jamar Summers (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Boston College won 30-0. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Finally, the football season is over. Painful is almost an understatement when it comes to what both fans and players alike had to endure. Bob Diaco is rightfully on the hot seat, and while the team has publicly said they don’t intend to dismiss him, the search for a new offensive coordinator has already begun.

But it might be too little too late.

There was something almost unexplainably bad about this year. There’s playing below expectations, and then there’s complete and utter apathy. Week after week, Diaco still preached that the team played with effort, that the culture was still strong. But going 16 quarters without scoring a touchdown does not seem like effort to me.

But the record was not the worst part. The worst part was that Diaco was exposed for his overly-positive rhetoric, making the product on the field laughable. The reputation for UConn has almost been run into the ground, and it’s not the fault of the players. Bryant Shirreffs played with a DISPLACED RIB almost all season. It’s beyond ridiculous; that’s outright recklessness and inexcusable neglect on the part of the coaching staff.

So what? Are we going to be this bad forever? Maybe, maybe not. But with such an emphasis on Big 12 expansion in the midst of one of the worst football seasons in recent memory, in retrospect, it’s absurd to ever assume we were a serious consideration.

A quick survey among the student body and other fans will reveal that they are most likely dissatisfied with the American Athletic Conference. Competition is scarce, and the only true rivalries that exist are between schools that were in the old Big East with UConn. How much longer is the state and the university going to throw money down the drain that is UConn football, losing dollars and watching as the empty seats begin to outnumber the fans?

It’s unsustainable, especially given the economic situation the state and the university are in. There are no TV deals coming to the American anytime soon, and the one Power 5 conference that would be a good fit, the ACC, is not set to expand.

So let’s go back to the Big East.

There are many benefits to this. For one, they actually would be WILLING to let us rejoin; it wouldn’t be hard to make happen. Second, the Big East has a TV partnership with Fox Sports 1, a deal that is worth 12 years, $500 million and was signed back in 2013. While viewership is good for what they have, UConn joining the conference may give it the boost they need, which would benefit UConn and Big East viewership in the long run.  

Second, Villanova proved last year that it’s possible for a basketball program to succeed out of the Big East. Not only that, but all of those old rivalries that were lost will be renewed. With the basketball team spiraling toward the similar path of underperforming to the point of ineptitude, this is a crucial time for UConn athletics to make a big move to save what may be a slow fade into athletic irrelevance down the line.

Going to the Big East may mean having to either drop football altogether or move back down to FCS. It seems ridiculous, but by all accounts, the football team should have made a big leap forward from last year. Instead, they took about 10 steps back. This year’s performance was so, so bad that it’s worth discussing these two things. If Diaco is going to stick around, it’s clear at this point that 2015 might be the high point of his tenure. Considering how many important returning players UConn had this year that are now leaving, it’s not a stretch to say that the team might get worse.

A TV deal would get us more money. More eyes are turning back to the Big East as a legitimate threat for basketball again, and UConn’s name may draw an even larger crowd. Those old rivalries would boost ticket sales and get more fans excited for games with real history behind them. Would a lot of other, possibly unwanted, things have to occur in order for this to happen? Perhaps. But at this point, there needs to be serious consideration before the Big East loses interest in us; or worse, the fans.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.