The fuse on the this-is-who-we-are moment had been burning for a long time in advance of Saturday's flash-bang news that shook up the national college basketball picture and set a university's top athletic pursuits back on course.
UConn was built on basketball and it had become time for the university to protect at all costs its prized assets, the programs run by Dan Hurley and Geno Auriemma. It is with that priority firmly established in the past handful of months that led UConn out of the American Athletic Conference and into the Big East, a move that is expected to be formalized and announced in the coming days.
It's not often that one can relive part of the past while creating opportunity and potential for the future but that's where UConn is today, walking back into the right neighborhood with a realistic view on what makes present-day sense. No one, not even those at UConn, knows today what exactly will become of UConn football but that's a project for tomorrow.
UConn is a basketball school and always was, no matter the decade-old surge in football and any Power 5 aspirations that have occasionally come and gone. So while this move comes with the potential for the football program to float around aimlessly as an independent for however long FBS sustainability remains a goal, this is the time and this is the way for UConn to once again state - scream, even - that this is what we're all about.
The Huskies are about national championship-caliber basketball because they have to be. If the entire athletic operation isn't headed by a men's basketball team in place to compete with the Big East, ACC and any top programs in the Northeast, well, what the heck are we doing anyway?
UConn won't chase a football national championship in our lifetime, the Power 5 ship has sailed and the university's true brand must be re-established and strengthened. For a handful of years the stance in Storrs seemed to be that the proud basketball programs would thrive through the power of their own volition and rich history while the university pursued a the Power 5 pipe dream.
No more of that. Nothing comes at the expense of UConn basketball and nothing should. You place your most valuable pieces accordingly and let the rest fall into place from there.
UConn was out of place in the AAC. The Huskies tried to make it work but haven't competed in football in what feels like forever. AAC rivalries never took hold and basketball games are played in near-empty gyms.
So, the heck with it all. Conferences and football and TV contracts can't dictate everything. Programs have to get back to being who and what they are.
That's not to say basketball is all UConn has to be. So, what of football?
There are no plans to cancel the program and turn the Burton and Shenkman facilities into the nation's largest study hall. Randy Edsall and the Huskies will probably have to get used to life as an independent after spending a final season in the American Athletic Conference. That UConn is headed to the Big East without a football plan in place shows you how priorities have shifted and how important it has become to return basketball to solid ground.
UConn is going to lose money on this deal - at least initially. The American's TV deal with ESPN, announced in March, is for 12 years and $1 billion. The Big East's deal with Fox, announced when the conference was formed in 2013, is exactly half - 12 years for $500 million.
So there will be a shortfall there. Throw in the fact that UConn won't earn a full share of the conference distribution money until year six, and there is another shortfall. There will be an entry fee. There is a $10 million AAC exit fee that could grow, will certainly have to be negotiated, because UConn plans to start Big East play in 2020-21, well below the AAC's mandatory exit notice of 27 months.
Anyway, this isn't about numbers or dollars. It's about what is right for UConn - what feels right, what looks right. It's about the Northeast, familiar opponents, old relationships renewed. The Big East brings prestige back to basketball. It brings UConn back to sold-out Madison Square Garden. It puts the Huskies on buses to Providence and St. John's instead of on planes to Houston and New Orleans. It creates long-term earning power in men's basketball.
The Huskies have been far down this road before, two years ago exploring the possibility of joining the Big East before sticking points like astronomical entry and exit fees made it an untenable situation. This time, it's a perfect marriage.
It's not like the Big East, with two Villanova national championships in the past four years, has been hurting. But adding UConn adds a national brand to a top national conference. And if you believe in Hurley, you believe the Big East is adding what will again become a top national program.
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