Big 12 University Presidents may have very well signed the conference’s death warrant this afternoon.
After much anticipation, the Big 12 voted against expanding their conference. Expansion which once seemed inevitable, may now never even happen. Hartford Courant reporter Jeff Jacobs tweeted this quote from his conversation with UConn athletic director David Benedict.
Big 12 boss Bob Bowlsby called UConn president Susan Herbst.."The word tabling was not used.They are not expanding." Benedict said.— Jeff Jacobs (@jacobscourant) October 17, 2016
This decision may very likely hurt the Big 12 down the road. Sports Business Journal reported a while back that ESPN and Fox were avid proponents against expansion. Sources told Sports Business Journal that ESPN and Fox believed adding more schools would dilute the Big 12 and its television value.
It is possible that both TV partners could pony up a few extra dollars in the future, thanking the conference for rejecting expansion. But even if television partners were to boost their payout to the Big 12, that money will not hold schools like Texas and Oklahoma from pursuing other opportunities in different conferences - which would make the Big 12 a doomed proposition, expansion or not.
Arguably, the biggest loser here is our old friend UConn. After the “Catholic 7” broke off from the Big East, Connecticut was left without a home. Once perceived a front-runner for a spot in the ACC, the Huskies were ultimately left out. The ACC elected to invite Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville instead. Now the Huskies reside in the American Athletic Conference.
Throughout its transition, Connecticut has continued to run an athletic program on a Power 5 budget; despite receiving less and less from their conference each year. If UConn cannot find a Power 5 conference to scoop up their athletic programs, the Huskies will struggle to invest in facilities and compete with the nation’s best.
Enter Big East Conference.
Back in August, here at Rumble in the Garden we wrote about the benefits of a UConn-Big East relationship. Outlined in-depth were some reasons UConn would provide instant credibility to the Big East. Some of those reasons included basketball success, a huge presence in the New York City television market, and overall Connecticut would provide the conference a huge brand, something the Big East lacks. Clearly adding UConn would help the Big East.
Still the question remains about UConn’s interest in rejoining a league that has meant so much to them.
As mentioned above, UConn needs to find a Power 5 home or else it won’t be able to financially keep up with major programs. Right now, no Power 5 conferences are seeking new members; ultimately meaning Connecticut may be forced to give up on the football experiment. Dropping football to a smaller conference would isolate the program and slow the investments made to football, allowing the Huskies to move their basketball team to the Big East. In the future, this may be Connecticut’s best option.
In fact, found in the university’s response to the Big 12 Conference’s due diligence request was a very interesting tidbit.
Officials from the University of Connecticut wrote to the Big 12, “UConn would accept football-only membership, and subsequently would pursue membership in the Big East Conference for other sponsored sports currently competing in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).”
At the moment, UConn to Big East talks are mere rumors. If any actions towards a UConn-Big East reunion were to take place, they wouldn’t be for quite some time. Still, this decision today could have great effect on the future of the Big East Conference.