From its 1896 inception until nearly two decades ago, the University of Connecticut football team played in Division II, essentially becoming an afterthought within the university’s athletic scene. But since 2002, UConn has fielded a Division I football team, which joined the Big East (now known as The American) in 2004. Such a rise in prominence, especially during the conference realignment period at the beginning of this decade, has led some to advocate for UConn to be regarded primarily as “a football school.”
However, the team’s abysmal play as of late, having attained a 28-67 overall win-loss record and one bowl game appearance since 2011, has dampened fans’ morale and called into question the merits of UConn even partaking in the popular sport.
Staying the course with UConn football may prove either worthwhile or futile. On one hand, UConn collects plenty of financial endorsements on account of its football program, and incumbent head coach Randy Edsall has proven his ability to lead the team to respectability, overseeing a 33-19 overall win-loss record, two conference co-championships and four bowl game appearances (two of which resulted in victories) from 2007 to 2010. If he can’t reverse this program’s currently grim prospects, however, its continued existence may drive away high-level recruits (which would worsen the team both short- and long-term) and cast a burden upon an already financially-stricken state.
According to Jeff Jacobs of Hearst Connecticut Media, “With 85 scholarships and so many expenses, football by far runs the largest deficit. It required a $7.5 million subsidy in absolute dollars in 2014 … And at well over $40 million a year, … UConn athletics is the most highly subsidized program in the nation.”
Contributing to this issue, students understandably feel reluctant to purchase season tickets and consequently stand in a frigid downpour for a few hours every other Saturday while witnessing lackluster performance after lackluster performance by their team. Furthermore, some students might willingly sacrifice their football program in exchange for their basketball programs’ transfer to a more prestigious conference. Considering UConn prides itself as “the basketball capital of the world,” such a tradeoff may seem especially appealing.
Softer forms of de-emphasis (e.g. demotion to FCS or independent status) might relieve pressure as UConn rebuilds and potentially regains FBS status; but these options, apart from their lack of financial viability, would be tough pills to swallow for such a highly-renowned university in such a major sport. In fact, Jacobs argues that “the biggest, perhaps only, legitimate argument for retaining football would be eventual entry into a new world of ruling conferences.” UConn football’s continued operation may continue to harbor pessimism and other difficulties (and the influx of posts on the “Buy or Sell UConn Tickets” Facebook page from those who seek some return on their shortsighted investment will only be greater) unless the culture surrounding it changes drastically.
Ultimately, UConn football could move in a variety of directions going forward. Students shouldn’t necessarily expect UConn football to become Alabama’s heir apparent overnight, but tangible signs of progress may be necessary to justify the program’s future.