In the off-chance that you’re reading this in a car in Storrs, go ahead and turn your radio on to 97.9 ESPN. What do you hear? The answer is static. What should you be hearing? The answer is UConn sports.
Maybe the static is better at this point.
Over the weekend, UConn and WTIC 1080 cut ties after a 26-year partnership. They signed a 10-year deal with ESPN 97.9, branded as “Hartford’s Sports Station.” I’m sure it comes in great there. But, you can barely even hear it in New Haven.
You may be wondering why UConn would ever switch to a station that you basically have to listen to on the internet or the iHeartRadio app if you don’t live in Hartford. Well, when it came time to negotiate a new contract, UConn reportedly asked for too much money and WTIC doesn’t need to broadcast UConn sports to survive.
But then the Journal Inquirer report came out. And the narrative drastically changed. It turns out it wasn’t really about the money — UConn had expressed their discomfort for WTIC’s conservative programming, and also asked them to air more sports talk shows that were “favorable to the university,” according to Entercom Radio senior vice president and market manager Phil Zachary.
In the kindest way possible, I ask: What in the world was UConn thinking? Did they think Zachary would just sweep it under the rug and forget about it? Did they forget that athletics is under a microscope right now? It’s embarrassing to event think about. Did they seriously think nobody would ever find out?
Of course, they denied ever saying such a thing. But they had to; they can’t admit they asked for UConn propaganda. This is the same athletic department that called me up on the phone after I wrote a column saying Ray Reid should be fired and told me that the student paper should be writing favorable things about the team, since we’re all students here. So I can 100 percent believe this is something they would ask of WTIC.
Asking to air pro-UConn content is like admitting defeat. Instead of publicly admitting how far the men’s basketball and football programs have fallen and detailing their steps to fix the problem, like the New York Rangers did
, they continue to act like everything is sunshine and rainbows up in Storrs.
And that’s the frustrating part— pretending like fans and students don’t see straight through the PR. It’s gotten to the point where it’s become kind of insulting. The whole “Power 6” campaign from the American has been embarrassing enough, but when Benedict outright said the conference is getting better when asked if UConn was considering going back to the Big East, you just roll your eyes and keep living life. Sure, he knows how much UConn fans long for the old Big East, but neither him nor Susan Herbst can fully understand just how important that part of UConn history was for the simple fact that they were not at UConn during that time. And sure, you could make the argument that the American is getting better, but until the selection committee recognizes that, it won’t matter. Oh, and the lack of a strong TV deal in the American means schools are literally hemorrhaging money.
But of course, this is not something athletics would admit. It illustrates the larger problem of lack of transparency between athletics and everyone else. I’m not saying they should just say horrible things all the time, that’s bad practice. But what’s the harm of calling out the selection committee for the constant snubs, not just in the American, but elsewhere too? For admitting the TV deal is bad and UConn is suffering as a result? In an age where information like this is available to everybody in an instant and can spread like wildfire, you just have to assume everyone knows everything. And if they don’t, they’ll find out eventually.
It was only a matter of time before word would get out what UConn’s true demands were. I’m not even going to get into the whole asking for less conservative content thing, because that’s its own beast. But I will say one thing: With the slew of conservative speakers that have been coming to Storrs and causing chaos, the way UConn handled it was less than stellar. Trying to control not only athletics content, but political content as well? It’s just hypocritical and there’s no excuse for it, no matter how much they may disagree with its message.
UConn athletics has only been making things worse for themselves and this WTIC news is just another addition to a slew of bad decisions. From taking signs away at games for seemingly no reason
to Jeff Goodman’s ESPN article detailing how former players and staff view the program to the performance of the programs themselves, it’s been rough lately for UConn athletics.
But they’re not making it any better for themselves.