The Big 12 conference has announced that it will be foregoing expansion, which leaves the University of Connecticut standing alone at the Power 5 altar. However, there remains a fleeting chance that UConn can wind up in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) thanks to our old Big East rival – Notre Dame.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Congressional delegation, and the General Assembly all need to support UConn President Susan Herbst and UConn Athletic Director David Benedict in order to help make it happen.
For the uninitiated, the conferences known as the Power 5 include: the Big Ten, the ACC, the Southeastern Conference, the Pac-12, and the Big 12.
For most UConn fans the importance of gaining admission to a Power 5 conference is self-evident. For non-sports fans the difference is a matter of dollars and sense. That is, last year UConn received about $1.5 million from its current conference, the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Compare that to the $26 million that the Atlantic Coast Conference distributed to its member schools last year. Based on reports by USA Today and the San Jose Mercury-News, the payouts from the rest of the Power 5 schools are each receiving $31.2 million (SEC), $30.9 million (Big Ten, projected), $25.1 million (Pac-12), and $23.4 million (Big 12).
For the last 12 months the focus has been on the Big 12. It was certainly worthwhile for UConn to throw its hat in the ring. However, the Big 12 is geographically a southwestern conference and culturally has as much in common with Connecticut as grits and hushpuppies.
Even before the Big 12’s announcement, the most optimistic and realistic path to Power 5 riches remains with the ACC — and the path is through South Bend.
If Notre Dame elects to fully commit to its ACC teammates (it is a member in all sports except football) then it will open up a 16th spot in the conference. If that were to happen there is little doubt that UConn will be the leading contender.
If Notre Dame were to fully commit to the ACC, the football bona fides would be secure and UConn would be without a doubt the most natural fit. To be clear, Notre Dame is presently a member of the ACC in all sports except for football where they agreed to play five ACC opponents each year. If Notre Dame were to forego its independence in football it would become the ACC’s 15th member school and the natural consequence would be for the ACC to want a 16th team.
UConn can be that 16th team.
Why would Notre Dame make this move? The answer is because the college football landscape underwent a paradigm shift in the last decade. Not just with conference realignment, but more importantly with respect to the introduction of the four-team college football playoffs. Now that the Big 12 has added a conference championship game, “if” Notre Dame were to be invited to the playoffs that means that TWO Power 5 conference champions would be left out.
The addition of Notre Dame football will benefit the entire ACC as well as any network (ESPN presently) that carries ACC games.
Here is the kicker — and it is why politics matters. If UConn were to offer to play Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium for each of its home games, that could help push the ball across the goal line. Presently, UConn has a lease with the state requiring it to play all home games at Pratt & Whitney Stadium with a seating capacity of 38,000.
The governor and the legislature need to free Benedict’s hands so that he can leverage the New York market (and grow UConn’s brand in Fairfield County).
Before we throw in the towel based upon being spurned by the Big 12, let’s pause and think positively for just a moment and imagine if the ACC comes calling.
Think about Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame coming to town for basketball. Think about home and home games for UConn and Notre Dame in women’s basketball.
Think about a consistent rivalry with Boston College in all sports. Consider college baseball games in Hartford (no he didn’t; yes he did) against Clemson, FSU, Notre Dame, and North Carolina. In football imagine the home ticket sales for FSU, Miami, and Clemson games.
Think about connecting UConn with Fairfield County via Notre Dame and Yankee Stadium. Think of the vibe at Storrs, and in Hartford, all around Connecticut, and all across Husky nation.
Nobody ever thought Jim and Geno and now Kevin could do what they did with what they were given.
Now let’s go leverage what they built and leverage UConn’s longstanding connection to the Big Apple.
Go Irish (fingers crossed)!
Paul McConnell is an attorney from West Hartford. He can be reached by .
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