The University of Connecticut is back in the Big East Conference.
Earlier this summer, the university accepted an invitation to rejoin the Big East in all sports with the exception of football, hockey and women’s rowing. Having left for the American Athletic Conference (AAC) in 2012, UConn drew to a close an incredible run of success in the historic conference that landed the university three men’s basketball national championships, seven women’s basketball national titles and two shared conference football championships in 2007 and 2010, including five bowl game appearances.
The Big East has been historically great to UConn, conjuring memories of Kemba Walker’s buzzer-beater against Pittsburg in the 2011 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden or the football program’s first bowl victory over Toledo in the 2004 Motor City Bowl under current head coach Randy Edsall. The men’s basketball program, led by former head coach Jim Calhoun, repeatedly sparred with rivals Villanova, Notre Dame and Syracuse, including the six overtime classic against the Orange at MSG in 2009. The baseball program claimed three Big East Conference Baseball Tournament titles; the softball program won seven.
The hardware is as prevalent in the showcases as the nostalgic memories looming in the minds of UConn Nation, hopeful for a return to past glory, particularly given the relatively uneventful tenure in the AAC.
In all fairness, men’s basketball has won it all since joining the AAC and the women’s program has yet to lose a conference tournament. While the women are likely to win anywhere, the men’s program, currently headed by former URI head coach Dan Hurley, has struggled against its new competition, appearing in the NCAA tournament only twice since the move, a grave disappointment by this university’s standards. The football program recently finished the worst season in college football history by defensive metrics.
The AAC has been generally unforgiving to an athletic program now forced to rebuild in many aspects. The return to the Big East, effective in 2020, has been long awaited. But this is about more than just the numbers and the trophies, given that success is no more guaranteed there than here. This is about rekindling old rivalries, enticing fans back into the building and creating new memories, oddly enough, in a familiar setting.
Although, cosmetically, the Big East has evolved since 2012, it is still UConn’s home. Sports fans across the nation — including even former President Bill Clinton — have expressed a longing for a reincarnation of their favorite conference. Sports, after all, are about the fans.
It’s about time the people have been given what they want.