By Carl Adamec
When Geno Auriemma took over the UConn women’s basketball program in 1985, the nine-team Big East played a 16-game balanced schedule. The Huskies had 10 non-league games that first season — five at home and five on the road. The 1986 Big East tournament was played at the Roberts Center on the campus of Boston College.
How many times did the Huskies get on an airplane that season?
Certainly to Pittsburgh, maybe to Georgetown. The non-league games at Iona, Long Island, and a three-day tournament in Philadelphia were bus rides.
How many American Athletic Conference road games starting next season will take the Huskies to Bradley International Airport?
All of them.
“That is the one downside to where we are right now is the travel is tough,” Auriemma said. “When Rutgers leaves, there are no bus trips. Everything is a plane trip. Mentally you have to be good. You have to be mature and you have to be able to pace yourself, know what the expectation level is. We do a pretty good job of it. Traditionally we have been pretty good on the road.”
UConn played its second game in Florida in seven weeks last Sunday, a 63-38 win over South Florida in Tampa. On New Year’s Day, the Huskies defeated Central Florida 77-49 in Orlando.
Auriemma was asked if he would prefer having the games together, much like the Huskies’ upcoming trip to Texas. UConn will fly to Houston Friday to face the Cougars Saturday, then take a bus to Dallas Sunday for next Tuesday’s game at SMU before flying home right after the game.
“If you could play Friday and Sunday and it’s not far away from each other, that’s ideal,” Auriemma said. “But in the world of television we live in right now, that’s not possible. You can’t schedule every game to fit into a nice little package. Somebody wants you to play Tuesday, or somebody wants you to play Wednesday, or someone wants you on a Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock … You try to accommodate a lot of different things.
“I’m not crazy about leaving on Friday and going to Houston and coming back at 4 in the morning Tuesday from Dallas. That’s not ideal either. But I wouldn’t want to make that trip twice.”
It will be the Huskies’ second trip to Texas. They defeated Baylor in Waco 66-55 on Jan. 13, but that was a non-league game.
From Dec. 1 through Jan. 4, UConn played seven games in seven different arenas.
The final trip of the regular season is to Louisville for the March 3 game.
Next season, the ACC loses Louisville to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers to the Big Ten while welcoming in East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. All that means is more travel.
“Maybe it would be easier to stay but you don’t want to be on the road for a long time and not be home and not sleep in your own bed,” UConn guard Moriah Jefferson said. “It’s a hard question.”
With no easy answers.
Could the AAC make it easier for some teams by having travel partners? For example, have a team play UCF and USF on the same trip, or SMU and Houston on the same trip. Next year, maybe, those trips become Tulane and Houston, and SMU and Tulsa.
Could the AAC do like the Pac-12 and schedule Friday-Sunday or Thursday-Saturday games to try and limit the amount of school that is missed.
Would ESPN let the conference do that?
“I think TV dictates so many of the games,” Auriemma said. “The conference has made a commitment to try to help the furthermost teams which would be us and Houston/SMU. So trying to help there are two games on that trip. Everyone else, I don’t know that given the TV demands and the fact that a lot of games are on campus how that meshes with the men’s teams. It was a little bit easier in our old league, because a lot of the men’s teams played off campus so it was never an issue of availability in a building. It is a little different now.”
As long as the Huskies are in the AAC, they’ll be picking up a lot of frequent-flyer miles.