An interesting thought crept into my head as UConn defeated San Diego State to win its fifth men’s national championship on Monday night — UConn, future Big 12 member?
I’m not saying the Huskies should be in based on Monday’s 76-59 victory. Not at all. But, the Huskies in some ways fit what Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark is looking for when it comes to an east coast wing of the league.
It’s clear Yormark values basketball, perhaps more than any of the other Power 5 commissioners. I think that comes from his time in New York and in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets.
I firmly believe he’s interested in adding basketball-only schools. His conversations with Gonzaga have been well-document and he’s acknowledged them.
But I also believe that Yormark has his eye on creating a basketball-only east wing of the league.
Big East Raid?
To do that, Yormark would likely have to raid the Big East in some way. It’s the best avenue to getting quality basketball-only schools that are in big markets and can bring added value to the league’s media deal — not the current one, but the one Yormark will have to negotiate at the turn of the decade.
In that deal, I firmly believe Yormark will seek to negotiate a basketball-only deal, which would be a unique approach to college TV deals. He may back off that pursuit, depending on what deal he can get. But I think he’ll take a shot at it.
To maximize that, he needs quality east coast teams where basketball thrives. But he also needs good fits for the best basketball conference in the country.
UConn would certainly fit that bill.
The Huskies now have five national championships since 1999. UConn is a Top 25 men’s program. When the Huskies are humming, they can play with anyone. It isn’t just Jim Calhoun’s success, either. Two other Huskies head coaches have won national titles now.
Of course, the women’s program has won more national titles than any other program. No program in the Big East brings the eyeballs for men’s and women’s basketball quite like UConn.
If we were just talking about adding UConn’s basketball programs, it might be a no-brainer. But UConn has a problem unique to the rest of the Big East — football.
What About Football?
The Huskies are the only Big East program that plays football at the FBS level. When the league had its scism a decade ago, the football schools went their separate ways. UConn went to the American Athletic Conference. But, a few years ago, dissatisfied with that arrangement and wanting to get back to its basketball rivalries in the Big East, they went independent in football.
Unless you’re Notre Dame, independence in football is brutal. But the Huskies weren’t exactly world-beaters in the Big East, either. UConn won two league title and it got to a Fiesta Bowl in 2010. Coach Jim Mora Jr. ended a seven-year bowl drought getting the Huskies to the Myrtle Beach Bowl in December.
I’ve been to Rentschler Field, the home of Huskies football. First, it’s not on campus in Storrs, Conn. It’s in Hartford. Second, it’s a solid stadium. It seats 40,000. I saw a game there when the Huskies hosted Holy Cross. I’m not sure what the atmosphere would be like if it hosted a Power 5 team.
I’m not certain the Huskies are a good football fit for the Big 12. Yes, West Virginia, Cincinnati and UCF would like to have someone a little closer to them. And, in a larger league that would make a good four-team pod. But will the Huskies faithful travel to Stillwater, Okla., or Lubbock, Texas? And vice versa?
If Yormark decides to pursue a school like UConn, that’s a big question he and the league’s athletic directors and presidents would have to answer. Inviting schools like Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s or Creighton is much cleaner because there is no football issue. Yes, Villanova and Georgetown play football at the FCS level, but I suspect they’re not interested in moving up.
You’d also have to get UConn on board with leaving the Big East again, right after it went back. Does that even interest the Huskies? Clearly being back in the Big East is helping the Huskies’ basketball program. They just won a national title.
Still, inviting UConn would be a savvy move for basketball, in my opinion.
But it wouldn’t come without complications that need answers.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard