They say everything old is new again, and that could be the case with UConn’s relationship with the Big East. UConn is on the verge of leaving the American Athletic Conference to return to the Big East ahead of the 2020-21 season, according to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander. The Hartford Courant and Digital Sports Desk first reported the move.
UConn’s move would affect all of its athletic programs with the exception of football, which the Big East does not sponsor. A source told Parrish this expected move is largely designed to help return men’s basketball to the more familiar brand of the Big East. However, the women’s basketball program would also prefer to leave the AAC, and Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma has privately pushed for the move as well, the source added.
The Big East has scheduled a call for early next week in which its presidents are expected to ratify UConn’s return, a source close to the conference told Norlander. UConn’s Board of Trustees has planned to vote and approve the move on Wednesday, but media reports may accelerate the timeline. A formal announcement of the Big East approving the return of UConn to the conference is planned for Thursday in New York.
“I’d be surprised if this ends pretty,” a second source told Norlander, noting that the AAC is not going to make this transition easy on the program. “… [The Huskies] never fully embraced the American.”
Norlander and Parrish both report that UConn is expected to be part of the Big East for the 2020-21 season as the league’s 11th team with the Big East’s men’s basketball programs each playing 20 games to keep a true round-robin schedule.
“It is our responsibility to always be mindful of what is in the best interest of our student-athletes, our fans and our future,” said UConn in an unattributed statement. “With that being said, we have been and remain proud members of the American Athletic Conference.”
Neither the AAC nor Big East would comment when asked by CBS Sports.
UConn had been a member of the Big East in basketball since the conference’s inception in 1979. When the school decided to move its football program to the FBS level, it spent its first four seasons as an independent before joining the Big East in 2004. Both programs remained there until the original Big East dissolved as football-playing schools like Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers left to join Power Five conferences. Out of that fracture was born the AAC, which was where UConn moved in both football and basketball starting in 2013 seasons.
UConn’s first season as a member of the AAC in basketball worked spectacularly as the Huskies won a national championship. They’ve only been selected for the NCAA Tournament once in the five seasons since, and fans have clamored for the program to return to the Big East. Their voices have only increased in volume in recent seasons.
As for the football program, life in the AAC has not been kind. In six seasons, the Huskies have only qualified for one bowl game. That 2015 season, in which the Huskies finished 6-7, is the only time the program has won more than three games in a season as a member of the AAC. The program’s problems run deeper than conference affiliation, however, and some have wondered whether the school should consider giving up FBS football altogether.
If UConn is moving back to the Big East, it’s unknown what will happen to the football program as the Big East does not sponsor football. It’s hard to imagine the AAC would want to keep UConn as a football-only member considering the school would have left it in every other sport.
Should UConn want to continue sponsoring an FBS program, it would likely have to do so as an independent — at least temporarily — as it did from 2000-03, though it’s possible the MAC or Conference USA would be interested in adding the program.