The University of Connecticut (UConn) is looking to move the bulk of its athletics program from the American Athletic Conference to the Big East, according to multiple reports. An official announcement is expected as early as this week.
AAC conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10m withdrawal fee and give 27 months’ notice before leaving – but a move in 2020 is still widely expected. The UConn’s Board of Trustees and the Big East presidents must first approve the decision.
UConn was an original member of the Big East, which formed in 1979, and joined the AAC in 2013 during a conference realignment.
The move is widely expected to revive UConn’s men’s basketball program by playing once again against historic rivals such as Providence, St. John’s and Syracuse, and a tighter geographic area for its conference travel schedule.
The university won three national titles (1999, 2004, 2011) and made four Final Four appearances under former head coach Jim Calhoun as members of the Big East. During their first season in the AAC in 2014, the Huskies then won a fourth national title. But during the ensuing half-decade, UConn has qualified for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament just once, leading to declining attendances.
It is unclear, however, what will happen to the college’s American football program – which is expected to stay in the AAC in 2019 – as the Big East does not sponsor the sport. CBS Sports has reported that the AAC will not accept UConn as a gridiron-only member and could look for a replacement member school, such as Army or Air Force, in the sport.
The women’s basketball program at UConn, the most successful of any in the nation ever with 11 national championships to its credit including four straight from 2013-16, would also get a boost from a shift to the Big East with heightened in-conference competition that conceivably would better prepare the team for national tournament play.
UConn’s move is unlikely to affect the AAC’s 12-year contract extension with ESPN, which begins in 2020-21 and is worth a reported $1bn. UConn expressed displeasure in March that the deal would put many of the university’s games on direct-to-consumer platform ESPN+ and not on linear television.