Troubled times at UConn

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news

markblaudschun

But she just smiled and turned away
Iwentdown to thesacred store

Where I'd heard the music years before
Butthemanthere said the music wouldn't play--Don McLean, American Pie

There isn't a whole lot of good news coming out of the University of Connecticut athletic department these days. The men's basketball team is mediocre at best and is now dealing with an NCAA investigation into possible recruiting violations, the football team is coming off a 3-9 season and is in a hole which might take years to escape.

UConn athletic teams are part of the American Athletic Conference, which continues to be a bad fit for the Huskies whose fans have little interest in seeing UConn vs. Tulane or East Carolina in conference games and long for the days when the Huskies were in the epicenter of the Big East, with natural rivals such as Villanova, Providence, Syracuse and St. John's.

Oh, the women's basketball program continues to be a winning machine under Geno Auriemma, but the other prime revenue producing sports at UConn?

Not so much and that is and should be a matter of growing concern for the Huskies.

Here's the essence of the problem.

Several times during the past 15 seasons, UConn has looked to elevate its status athletically into what is now called one of the Power 5 conferences--Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big 10, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12.

The Huskies took a sniff at the Big Ten, which wasn't interested and settled for Maryland and Rutgers as an additional (to Penn State) Eastern footprint. UConn made a few runs at the ACC, but was road blocked by BC. A year ago, the Huskies seriously flirted with the Big 12, but again came up empty when the Big 12 decided to maintain the status quo of 10 schools.

If this were a basketball issue, UConn would have been fat and happy and back in the Big East a few years ago. But the elephant in the room has and continues to be football. UConn has made a commitment to football which has an end game wish as a member of a Power 5 conference with the big time money that brings.

In a perfect world, UConn would be part of the Big East in all sports but football, which would remain as an associate member of the AAC, which was created as a hybrid after the Big East football conference dissolved a few years ago.

But AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is not buying that. Nor should he. UConn football, without basketball, has limited value for the American.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Without the AAC as a parachute for football, UConn can downgrade football to the FCS level (a non starter, since UConn already traveled that road), survive as an independent (a tough package to put together if you are not Notre Dame), drop football (a possibility from a financial standpoint) or find another league as a football only member (see arguments by the AAC against that).

Another issue, as it generally always does, involves money. Until last season, UConn was bringing in almost $10 million annually in television revenue, but that figure was boosted by the exit fee money AAC schools were being paid by the basketball playing members of the Big East who formed a new Big East. Those payments have now been made.

The new television contract for the AAC is closer to $4 million per year. UConn is facing a budget crisis and is cash poor. It can ill afford the drop in revenue. The AAC has also placed a $10 million buyout tag on its members, which UConn really can not afford.

So what to do?

From a competitive viewpoint, rejoining the Big East makes the most sense. But the Big East is again fat and sassy and is playing hard to get with UConn. They will have to be courted.

What makes it worse in basketball is that there is absolutely no buzz about UConn, which has become a second tier job. UConn-UCF, which was played on Wednesday night, is not in the same galaxy as UConn-Providence or UConn-Villanova, which was a non-conference game the Huskies scheduled (and lost) last weekend.

Men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie, who won a national championship at UConn four years ago, has a job status which is precarious at best considering what is happening on the court (the Huskies were 11-10 going into Wednesday night's game vs. UCF) AND the NCAA investigation off the court.

There might be a light at the end of the tunnel much of the UConn athletic program is now traveling, but right now it may well be an oncoming train.[/membership]

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