Reflections on UConn and ACC

John F. Silver

It was a stomach punch.

Few times in the UConn athletic history have the Huskies been humbled. This is UConn, and it is never humbled.

Well, on Wednesday the President’s of the ACC schools did what seemed like couldn’t be done on the athletic field for over a quarter century — humbled the entire program.

The ACC’s inclusion of Louisville in lieu of UConn makes sense on a lot of grounds. The Cardinals are better at UConn in football and have slightly better overall superiority in most other sports. The Cardinals also have the most finely run athletic department in the country outside of Columbus, Ohio and Austin, Texas. This isn’t going to be a screed denigrating Louisville. It’s a good program, and while it’s academics aren’t to par, it has shown a commitment as the school to getting better and being a major player nationally.

How does a team with this fan base, the resources, the TV market and the academic standings find itself sitting in the great unknown conference?

The Huskies’ main problem is football. Certainly this was the onus behind going to the FBS back in 2003. The thought was to protect basketball. In the end, that’s been the entire problem. Too much basketball focus and football more as a third wheel to help the gravy train going. Football has been looked on for better part of the last 10-15 years as a necessary evil to protect the men’s and women’s basketball programs from the realignment craze that was entirely predictable. It’s the smallest fanbase of the three major sports and also the one that gets the lowest ratings.

That’s the root of the problem at UConn. It wasn’t long ago that bowl games and some excitement were all that was needed. Get to.500, get to a bowl, and the job was done.

Five bowls in nine years, two Big East titles, one BCS bid and the fastest ranking into the top 25 in college football history.That’s an enormous amount of success, and, in the bubble it’s proof that big-time football can work in Connecticut.

But it’s not good enough. The headline scream success, but take a closer look.

Outside the bubble there is a different view.

Nationally, UConn is considered irrelevant because their success is deemed a product of a historically weak and destabilized Big East and their two Big East titles and the scandalous BCS berth an accident.  What do people remember about the crowning achievement of the Fiesta Bowl? UConn not selling any tickets. Yes, it’s an extortion plot that the bowl games use, but that’s how the game is played.  Play the game or go home.

Am I being harsh?

I don’t think so.

UConn just beat their first Top 25 team on the road against Louisville (yeah go figure). It was 1-19 before that coming in against ranked foes. The Huskies have only one nine win year, have been in the Top 25 a total of six weeks in eight years, and have an awful road record in conference play. The bulk of UConn’s wins have come through scheduling MAC teams at the right time and taking advantage of poor coaching moves at West Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville.

Which view is correct? Inside or outside the bubble?

The truth is somewhere in between UConn is a rising power and UConn can’t play football. It would be wise for the athletic department to focus on the former and keep in mind the latter.

This was a football decision. Essentially, the ACC didn’t feel UConn was attractive enough as a football school to help maintain stability.

What does UConn need to do?

This is mainly a football issue and here’s what the football program needs to do.

The Huskies have to WIN. And, the Huskies have to win big in football to get out of the Big East. You want to make people feel better? Beat Cincinnati on Saturday.

It goes deeper than the players and coaches. UConn has been conservative in scheduling and has no 2014 non-conference games scheduled.  The Huskies have to start packing Rentschler Field, winning games on the road, playing good teams at home and need to start a plan to expand Rentschler Field past 40,000 fans. The stadium is too small, the target not ambitious enough for UConn football. Yes, the pressure ratchets up on coach Paul Pasqualoni to show marked improvement next year. In the past, a bowl game was fine. Not anymore. The Huskies need to be at the top of this New Big East Conference.

That means expanding the stadium like Rutgers and Louisville did, making an investment in infrastructure with football and other sports such as soccer, baseball, lacrosse/field hockey and track. The facilities are outdated.

The Huskies need to become a football school. 10-13 over two season isn’t good enough,not when the athletic department rides and falls on what goes on in the gridiron and in the seats.

What about basketball?

The men’s program needs to take its medicine this year and rebuild. The Huskies are in a significantly weaker position than it was a year ago as a program. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville are all gone as is West Virginia. That’s the last four Big East regular season champions. UConn has finished in the bottom half of the conference for the last three seasons. That doesn’t bode well when the head coach leaves in September for the express purpose of naming his successor. Kevin Ollie is on a 7-month contract and at 5-1, there are thing you like, but a direction has to be made soon. The Huskies lost out on a major recruit in Brandon Austin to Providence College. Once upon a time UConn used to battle Louisville and Syracuse for recruits. Now, it’s Providence?

Can UConn recruit the players it needs now? Considering the Big East was a major reason that recruits came, that’s going to be difficult. Replacing Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville with East Carolina, Tulane and Houston isn’t a recruiting boon. That will have a longterm affect.

The women’s program will just beat teams by even wider margins. It’s perhaps the only program that is insulated from all this because of its uniqueness.

What about all the rest?

Soccer, ice hockey, baseball and the Olympic sports all could use upgrades. Ice Hockey is moving to Hockey East, maybe they should retro-fit Gampel for it and hold the games on campus. Soccer is great, but, the school needs a new stadium. Baseball has undergone a resurgence and has made the NCAA two out of the last three years.  But, the baseball field is far below average of what a good college park looks like. The soccer field has bleachers and fits a little less than 5,000 fans. It’s not modern and all of it needs to upgrade.

How UConn gets there, well that’s why AD Warde Manuel and President Susan Herbst are in charge.




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