On Monday, the University of Connecticut was formally invited as the 11th member of the Big East Conference.
On Wednesday, the UConn Board of Trustees will vote on the invitation.
On Thursday, the Big East expects to announce the addition of Connecticut.
The long-rumored move is finally happening.
To many, UConn is returning home to a conference where they enjoyed great success in men’s basketball and dominated in women’s basketball. Is it a good move for both parties?Is the potential high given the statuses of the Big East and UConn?
Conference realignment has made for confusing changes.
Technically speaking, the Huskies will be changing conferences for the first time since 1979.
Connecticut was a founding member in 1979 of the Big East Conference, which in 2013 was renamed the American Athletic Conference. When the “Catholic Seven” schools broke from the original conference, chasing football by adding the likes of Tulane and East Carolina, the remaining hoops-focused schools paid to retain the Big East name... and keep the basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Since its inception, the “new” Big East has done a tremendous job of providing a strong basketball product, focused more on its strengths rather than chasing football money, or expanding deep into the south.
Most teams in the league have played competitively on a national scale, with Villanova winning two of the last four NCAA Tournaments and Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence being perennial NCAA Tournament teams. Even teams like DePaul, St. John’s, and Georgetown have made gradual improvements, creating a league that has no “cupcakes”.
Still, the addition of UConn adds more credibility to a league considered to be a top-five basketball conference on the men’s side, and is competitive on the women’s side.
- Connecticut’s men’s team has won four NCAA championships, all coming since the year 1999.
- The women’s team has been the best program in the nation for many years.
- The basketball teams have an extensive track record of NBA and WNBA players.
- The men’s team has invested in a well-regarded coach in Danny Hurley.
- The baseball team, which earned an NCAA berth this season, will provide competition to top squads like St. John’s and Creighton.
UConn is a basketball brand synonymous with tradition and excellence. Even with the Huskies amidst a rebuild, Connecticut brings city appeal, strong tradition, and high-level facilities to Big East basketball.
The Big East was built as a northeast league, centered around New York City and Madison Square Garden as a home.
Very few teams are as big of a deal in New York City as the UConn Huskies. Even through the recent downfalls of the program, Husky fans have shown up in significant numbers to Madison Square Garden for non-conference games. UConn fans will show up in droves for the Big East Tournament, a boost to a conference that already sells out sessions.
During the 2014 NCAA Tournament, with UConn firmly in the far-flung AAC, Husky fans sent ticket prices soaring. Forbes provided backed that statement up.
“...UConn did make it back to their former home-away-from-home, and that has been plenty to send prices soaring. Prices for the Friday night session are up 60% since UConn advanced with their win over Villanova. Just a Metro North-ride away from Manhattan, it seems both alum and students are doing whatever they can to get their hands on the first NCAA Tournament tickets at the Garden in 53 years.”
The addition of UConn revitalizes some natural east coast rivalries. The Huskies have deep and often contentious history with Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, and St. John’s. These contests are important in the region, drawing immense interest and good crowds — and hopefully, TV ratings.
The Big East will move to 20 conference games, which creates more raw product for Fox to televise. Rivalries like UConn-Villanova will greatly strengthen the profile of the conference looking to be highly valued by Fox.
This is because Connecticut is bringing with them a foundation in solid markets. As I wrote in 2016, the Huskies bring tons of television sets from the Hartford-New Haven market, which Nielsen lists as the 32nd largest media market in America. Below you can find the size of each Big East teams home media market.
St. John’s / Seton Hall (New York, NY)- #1
DePaul (Chicago, IL)- #3
Villanova (Philadelphia, PA)- #4
Georgetown (Washington, D.C)- #6
Butler (Indianapolis, IN)- #28
**UConn (Hartford-New Haven, CT)- #32
Xavier (Cincinnati, OH)- #35
Marquette (Milwaukee, WI)- #36
Providence (Providence, RI / New Bedford, MA)- #52
Creighton (Omaha, NE)- #74
UConn will go further in cementing Big East basketball on television sets in New York City, where many alumni live (and where a number of past and present UConn players grew up).
(An interesting note the keep in mind is that Fairfield County, CT actually is considered to be in New York, NY television market.)
The UConn women’s basketball team warrants a high valuation, the biggest attraction in all of women’s hoops, as well.
Currently, the Big East and Fox are halfway through a 12-year television deal worth $500 million. When the time comes to renegotiate that television (and streaming) contract, the Big East will stand to gain by having another well-regarded program.
As fans look to reduce costs, cut the cord, and are forced to make piecemeal choices on what sports they watch, these Big East matchups will be more appealing than, say, UConn vs. East Carolina.
Fans in Connecticut are celebrating what looks to be a great chance at reviving their proud basketball team. Without the invitation from the conference, enthusiasm around a once great program would continue to wither away, a fifth-tier choice on ESPN’s networks playing in a league where half the teams are far from postseason contention.
The Big East needs UConn just as much as UConn needs them.
In a world where football reigns supreme, the Big East has successfully presented itself as a league focused on basketball excellence.
Conferences like the ACC and the Big Ten are making inroads in Big East markets. Not only has the Big Ten provided viewing competition on Fox, but they have made it a priority to try to kick the Big East Tournament out of Madison Square Garden. They played their basketball tournament there last year, and are hoping to do so in the future (although Big East Commission Val Ackerman shrewdly has Madison Square Garden secured on the coveted final week of the season until 2028).
“We’ve talked to (Madison Square Garden) about the future,” Big Ten commisioner Jim Delany told reporters. “We’ve presented them with a powerful, promotional plan that we think, along with the other conferences, if you can elevate Madison Square Garden, we think we can elevate it to the next level with regard to college basketball postseason.”
The ACC also held their basketball tournament in Brooklyn.
To ensure the roots of the Big East stay put in New York City, the league added a team with a huge brand and a big footprint in the city.
No, UConn is not a Catholic school. Yes, they still have that pesky, money-losing football team to deal with, the reason they stuck with the AAC for as long as they did.
But if the Big East wants to continue building as a standard of basketball-only excellence and compete in the ever-changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics — they need Connecticut.
Not only will the Huskies enjoy a major boost in competition, but the addition of Connecticut helps the Big East secure a more stable future.