Just when you thought it was all over, the Big 12 has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.
There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.
Three Reasons Why Connecticut Should Join the Big 12
1. They’re one of the biggest basketball brands available
If the Big 12 opts to go with the athletic department with the most rings, UConn is going to be the easy choice for the conference. The Huskies are among the biggest basketball brands in the country for both men and women and are annually in the running for the national title in both sports. If the Big 12 wants to create a strong hoops league to help rival the ACC, making UConn play Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and others on an annual basis will make for a nice addition.
2. ESPN’s backyard
Being an hour away from ESPN hasn’t made UConn a crown jewel in the conference realignment swirl but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be in the worldwide leader’s backyard. The four letter network has a relationship with the school dating back to its founding and there are a healthy dose of alumni roaming the campus in Bristol to this day. Having a Power Five program nearby likely sounds more appealing given its absence in recent years after the school left the Big East. Proximity to New York and Boston also is going to be seen as a big plus.
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3. They have a quality academic profile
Of all the potential expansion targets, UConn grades the highest when it comes to academics — no small thing when you consider that it will be school presidents extending invites. They’re tops among potential schools in U.S. News & World Report rankings and easily the top public university the conference seems to be considering. The state itself has pumped quite a bit of resources into its flagship university and it’s paid off in increasing UConn’s academic profile.
Three Reasons Why Connecticut Shouldn’t Join the Big 12
1. Storrs is a long way from everybody
A 2,000-mile road trip from Texas to Connecticut doesn’t exactly scream fun and it is really complicated given how many Big 12 schools are in college towns and not next door to major cities (and major airports). Along those lines, trying to get the women’s soccer team from Manhattan, Kansas, to Storrs sounds like a costly and logistical nightmare. Sure charters help for the big sports like football and basketball but when you multiply things out to 20-plus sports, things aren’t so simple. Even as a Northeast lifeline to West Virginia, UConn doesn’t make all that much sense given that Storrs is still a eight-hour drive away.
2. They don’t truly deliver the New York City/Boston markets
UConn has a good fan base but the idea that the Huskies are going to put the Big 12 in big markets like New York City and Boston overnight is ridiculous. Yes there are plenty of UConn alumni in both areas but it’s not an overwhelming amount in cities that support dozens of different schools. Much like the Big Ten adding Rutgers, it gets the league in the door of the Big Apple, but it doesn’t get the Big 12 anywhere close to having a dominant school in the market.
3. Football has historically been mediocre
The Huskies have been playing football at the FBS level for less than 20 years so they’re still a relatively young program but nobody is confusing them for a Northeastern powerhouse. There have been brief flashes (like reaching a BCS bowl) but for the most part, the program can best be described as mediocre with a few good moments. Things do seem to be on the rise under current head coach Bob Diaco but there is the sense that it’s a program with a glass ceiling given its location, recruiting base and the fact that facilities are nice but not cutting edge.
When the Big 12 first announced it was exploring expansion (again) months ago, UConn seemed like a fringe candidate that was mostly being mentioned because the Huskies are a non-Power Five program with a solid brand that was trying to get back in the good ol’ boys club. Most tend to dismiss their chances because of where they are located compared to a Texas-centric league but, suddenly, there appears to be some very real momentum for the Northeast school.
Whether that is just because everybody is trying to jump in the pool of candidates or not remains to be seen, but UConn figures to be fully evaluated by Big 12 leaders. There is a solid all-around profile athletically to consider and the academic angle is likely something the leaders making decisions will examine closely. Whether those factors can outweigh being so far away from most schools is anybody’s guess.
If you are a UConn fan, you’re going to be pumping out your chest, wearing the school colors proudly and really rooting hard for the Big 12 to expand by four teams over the coming months. It seems pretty hard to see a far-flung conference adding another far-flung school if it only expands by two schools. If it’s four however, there’s a chance — a chance — that UConn winds up in that final four.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)