Conference realignment has mostly settled down from the free-for-all that rocked the sport between 2010 and 2014, upsetting rivalries and even spelling the death of several established conferences. One team that was never happy with the landscape that emerged from that time was the University of Connecticut, who found themselves on the wrong side of the Big East’s schism into basketball-first northeastern schools and the football-first American Conference. Though UConn technically sponsored football, it’s the rare school that can make a legitimate claim to basketball (both men’s and women’s) driving their budget.
So it wasn’t a total surprise then this week when the school announced they’d be returning to the Big East, rekindling their historic rivalries with schools like Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Providence while leaving their beleaguered football program’s future in doubt.
This also leaves open a big question for the American Athletic Conference, which, despite its flaws, has separated from the Group of Five pack to clearly distinguish itself as the best non-power football conference in the country. Prior to UConn’s departure, the league balance; two six-team divisions that play for an annual conference championship game. While there’s been discussion of the league choosing to somehow stay at 11 teams for the foreseeable future, we’re under the belief that they’ll eventually want to replace the Huskies and return to an even 12.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of some potential replacements.
Currently in the MAC, the Bulls may not have the on-field success of some other candidates yet, but they’re a state university with a reasonable amount of resources, and they could easily step in to fill UConn’s place as a northeastern complement to schools like Temple and Cincinnati.
PRO: Big city location, athletic department upside
CON: Little on-field results to show as of yet, not a “sexy” move
The Blazers have roared back to success after a two-year hiatus between 2015-2016; last year they posted an 11-3 mark en route to a Conference USA championship and Boca Raton Bowl win over Northern Illinois. They’ve got history with many of the AAC’s current membership, having played with UCF, USF, Houston, Cincinnati, ECU, Tulane, Memphis, SMU and Tulsa as conference foes before.
They’re not a big geographic get, though, and it could reinforce the sense that the AAC of today is simply the C-USA of 2002.
PRO: They’re good at football?
CON: Always going to be under the thumb of Alabama, not a great TV brand
AIR FORCE, ARMY
The service academies are always a good choice from a branding perspective — even when on-field success isn’t there, people respect the name. And Navy’s settled into a home in the AAC, so it’s not without precedent.
Navy’s had trouble since they joined, though — these schools might look at the Midshipmen’s lack of success since joining the AAC and think it’s dangerous when your opponents become familiar with the service academy style of play.
PRO: Great for branding
CON: Army’s been down the conference road before and it didn’t go well; Air Force may be happier in the Mountain West, having Army-Navy as a conference game could screw up scheduling
A national brand with a bigger historic football profile than almost any candidate we’ve discussed so far. Always in the mix in any conference expansion discussion.
PRO: Could slot nicely in the West, allowing Navy to move to the East.
CON: Would likely have to be a football-only member thanks to no-Sundays rule; travel distances would be a problem; they haven’t shown much interest in joining a conference lately. Not happening.
A profile similar to UCF — a Florida university with a surprisingly large enrollment that could become a sleeping giant if elevated to a larger stage. Has the same number of national titles as UCF.
CON: Is that the Lane Kiffin one?
PRO: You’re thinking of FAU.
TEXAS STATE ARMADILLOS
PROS: Struggled back after the program received the death penalty to find surprising on-field success. Likeable, television-friendly cast of characters; fun.
CON: Not real; are from the 1991 film Necessary Roughness.
Sure, they’ve been on a sliding scale between bad and terrible the last few years, bottoming out with a 1-11 record last year and one of the worst defenses in major college football history. And sure, they literally just left the conference. But maybe this is just like when your Nintendo game would get all streaky? Maybe we just need to take UConn out, blow on them, and put them back in.
PRO: Wouldn’t have to reprint media guides
CON: Randy Edsall’s still there. Unblock me on Twitter, Randy.
We’re in the NBA offseason right now, and because of the league’s salary cap structure, often some of the most attractive trade bait are crummy players with large contracts. Teams with too much money on their books can package assets with a JR Smith type to ones who’ve got the room and no incentive to compete right now.
PRO: Maybe the Big Ten could offer us a few home-and-home games in exchange for taking them off the books?
CON: We just had the carpets steamed, you’re not bringing that thing in here.
THIS BIN FULL OF SCREAMING DUCKS
PRO: Hasn’t had a conference home since Vine shut down. Instantly more watchable than UConn football.
CON: We already have UCF Twitter for that sound.