You've heard from South Florida. You've heard about Memphis. Today, we're quizzing our friend from The UConn Blog, Aman Kidwai (@AmanfromCT), about the easternmost potential candidate for Big 12 Expansion.
Jon: First off, on a scale of 1-10, how badly does the fanbase want the Big 12 to extend an invite?
Aman: That's a hard 10, chief. The last round of conference realignment could not have shaken out any worse for UConn. Even though the Big 12 is not an ideal fit, any fan would take it in a heartbeat.
Jon: How about the administration? Any sense of their enthusiasm beyond the obvious financial benefits?
Aman: Arguably the administration's top objective since being marooned on the island of misfit toys that is the AAC (which I really think is better at football and men's basketball than people give it credit for, but still) is to get UConn into a power conference. Under the circumstances, any one will do.
Enthusiasm for athletics overall has stagnated, as fans are understandably less likely to spend the money and make the effort to attend, say, UConn Men's Basketball vs. Tulsa than back in the day against Pittsburgh or Syracuse, even though Tulsa is a pretty decent team.
There is a strong argument to be made that with the way sports can lead to academic improvement (athletic success >> more applications >> better incoming classes >> higher rankings) that there are academic ramifications to not being part of college athletics' power cartel, especially for a flagship state school.
Our President Susan Herbst definitely understands the role and importance of sports as a marketing vehicle, and it is pretty clear that this is a priority. They aren't leaking brochures featuring Justin Timberlake or asking local journalists to chronicle how hard they are trying, but I'm confident they're doing everything they can.
Jon: We'll get to the things which the suits will focus on -- money, academics, and success -- in a minute. What wacky benefits which the administrations don't care about at all would UConn bring to the Big 12?
Aman: We have an ADORABLE Husky dog mascot, four men's basketball national championships, and have also put women's college basketball on the map in a big way. Our women's hoops head coach Geno Auriemma is an absolute delight from a quotables perspective- refreshingly honest and also very insightful.
The Husky athletic department has been successful across the board, with recent national championships in other sports such as field hockey and men's soccer. We also have the world-renowned Twitter phenom @NoEscalators, who I would imagine is a fun follow for anyone in our conference.
We also probably have the best-looking and most stylish combo of revenue sport coaches out there. I'd put Bob Diaco and Kevin Ollie up against anyone else's football and men's basketball coaching duo.
Jon: If Connecticut joined, who do you think they'd quickly form rivalries with? What Big 12 cities are you most excited about potentially visiting?
Aman: UConn-Kansas in basketball would be my first thought. On the gridiron, we have some history with West Virginia, and by some history I mean they used to stomp the shit out of us but we beat them once in a game where they really needed it and committed like five hundred turnovers.
Big 12 cities I'd be most excited about visiting are Austin and... Manhattan, Kansas, obviously.
Jon: Why do WE want to come visit Connecticut? What's great about Storrs? What's your fanbase REALLY like (warts and all)?
Aman: Storrs is a great college town. We have ELITE ice cream at the Dairy Bar, upwards of four bars to wet your beak at, and many fine eateries. The newly built Storrs Center is quite nice, and will have an answer for all your basic food, beverage and entertainment needs.
The football stadium is slightly off-campus, so if you're going to one of those games you could stay in West Hartford or Hartford, which both have plenty of restaurants and nightlife options and would be a short drive away from the stadium.
Our fanbase is very set on making sure you know that UConn Athletics is really good. Being in the AAC has caused us to develop a bit of a complex where we feel like we need to constantly prove it. Other than that, we are as knowledgeable and respectful of the opinions other fans as any major college fanbase.
Jon: And now, the big one. Pretend we're the Big 12 Board of Directors. Why should we invite UConn as opposed to anyone else? SELL US.
Aman: If it's TV markets you care about, look no further. UConn's Hartford-New Haven market is #30, but its reach is much higher if you factor in Fairfield County, which is in Connecticut but counted as part of NYC's metro area, and the presence UConn has in NYC.
Want to bring your top brands to the Big Apple? We've got your ticket, just look at the prices for NCAA Tournament games at Madison Square Garden when UConn was there. We can put a lot of butts in seats if you wanted to have UConn-Kansas at MSG or put a football game in Yankee Stadium.
UConn Football has only been around at the FBS level for 16 years. In that short span, the program has produced a solid crop of NFL players, won a BCS conference championship, and has beaten Virginia, Duke, Maryland, Baylor, Indiana, Louisville, South Carolina, Notre Dame, and has a winning record against Syracuse and Pittsburgh. To say UConn brings nothing to the table in football is a bit misguided and ignores the potential that exists to fill the current power vacuum in the northeast.
May I also present, for your consideration, a page from the Wall Street Journal's recent survey of college football team values?
While the widely-held belief is that men's basketball doesn't matter, I think you know that it most certainly does. The entire country shuts down once March Madness starts and everyone is watching. UConn has proven quite proficient in the single-elimination basketball championship format, and will continue to produce revenue credits there. During its time in the Big East, UConn was the most successful team (most conference regular season and tournament titles, as well as national championships) in the best college basketball conference ever. That's a level of prestige which no other expansion candidate can even come close to.
Some might be quick to dismiss the significance our eleven women's basketball titles, all since 1995, but they'd be wrong to do that, speaking strictly from a business and branding perspective.
Time for a quiz: What is the third-most televised college sport? Ding-ding-ding! It's women's hoops. By far. If you're starting a conference television network you'll need something compelling to put on it. Having UConn women's hoops in your pocket is a great way to make sure the new Big 12 network is carried in NYC. Also, old people around the country love women's basketball- they have TV sets too! Moreover, UConn women's basketball has proven to be an inspiration for young women around the country to pursue excellence in sports. Some things are more valuable than just what the spreadsheets say.
Academically, we are head and shoulders above the rest of the options you are likely considering. UConn would be the second-highest ranked school in the USNWR rankings behind only Texas if added to the Big 12.
Furthermore, if you are Texas or Oklahoma Football and feeling chapped by the possibility of playing games in East Hartford, Connecticut, I want you to know that we are more than willing to host that game in Yankee Stadium, or Gillette Stadium, or Dubai, whatever you want. Additionally, in the likely event that we end up in different divisions, you'd only have to do it once every four years or so anyway.
So, what do you think? Has Aman sold you on the joys of East Coast sports? Let us know below. Later today, wildcat00 will tell you why this is a really bad idea; tomorrow, we'll put Tulane up on the chopping block.