When UConn named David Benedict the new athletic director this week, everybody had one question for him: How can you get UConn into a Power Five conference? There’s no question Benedict is going to try his best, but should we really be as desperate as we seem?
The reconstruction of the Big East is one of the most disappointing developments in the history of college sports. The Big East was built from the ground up into one of the strongest conferences in the country and a basketball fan’s dream. There’s no denying that the UConn basketball program would love to find their way back into a conference of the Big East’s caliber, but it’s important to consider the success of UConn athletics as a whole.
UConn is, and probably always will be, a basketball school. Since UConn joined The American ,the basketball team has won a national title and managed to schedule very strong opponents outside of conference play. Head coach Kevin Ollie has secured strong recruiting classes and the product on the court is no worse than it was in the Big East days.
The sport that has grown most rapidly in recent years at UConn is hockey. As a New England state with a rich hockey tradition it would seem like a no-brainer. However, UConn hockey wasn’t relevant on a national level until they joined the Hockey East Conference in 2014. Hartford is a city that craves hockey and it shows when UConn fans pack the XL Center for hockey games all season. The Huskies will play their first home playoff game as a Hockey East program on Friday night and the XL Center will likely see one of it’s best hockey crowds since the Whalers were in town.
If UConn were to join the Big Ten, for example, they would likely have to switch hockey conferences. The Big Ten is still better than the Atlantic Hockey Conference, in which UConn previously played, but the Huskies have found a home in Hockey East and it would be a shame to shake things up. With a rich basketball tradition and a rapidly growing hockey program, winter is becoming an exciting time to be a UConn sports fan.
The baseball team has also benefitted from the move to The American. A noticeable southern influence has made The American one of the premier baseball conferences in the country. The ACC would also serve as a superb baseball conference, but The American is nothing to shake a stick at. The Huskies had one of their more talented teams last season and still went only 11-13 in conference play. There’s potential for UConn to grow into the primary hotbed for northeastern baseball talent. Players would likely relish the opportunity to play close to home in New England, but face competition from southern schools like Houston, East Carolina and South Florida.
UConn athletics as a whole are in very good shape since the realignment that destroyed the Big East. The American was even a pleasant surprise as a football conference this season. Barring a move to the ACC, UConn’s best option might be to stay put in their current conference. The ACC would serve as the ideal option because it is a phenomenal conference for both baseball and basketball, and it lacks a hockey conference of it’s own, likely allowing UConn to remain in Hockey East. The American is not as glamorous as many would like, but neither was the Big East when it was founded in 1979. There’s always opportunity to grow and UConn athletics as a whole have done a great job of making the most of a sticky situation.