After months of back and forth, will they-won’t they expand, the Big XII commissioner Bob Bowlsby (how great is his name?) announced the league will look to expand to 12 or 14 teams (add 2 or 4 teams). UConn has been in the Big XII conversation for years now, so the expansion news (if it actually ends up happening) is big in Storrs. UConn should be at least in the final group with a legitimate shot of getting an invitation, but they are facing some tough competition with an unclear future. Let’s take a look at where UConn’s resume stands in the expansion talks.
Geography and Travel
UConn has both an advantage and disadvantage in geography and travel. Let’s start with the obvious: Storrs, CT is a long way from the Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa where the current teams are located. West Virginia is the closest team and still 600 miles away, making travel in the league much more expensive and difficult. That’s a massive disadvantage, for sure, especially when comparing resumes of the University of Houston, University of Cincinnati and University of Memphis as other options.
The advantage comes with UConn’s strong presence in the large and powerful New York media market. Let’s face it, college sports (specifically football, but also basketball) are all about the money and if the Big XII looks to add a television network, UConn would pull in the New York market that no other team can bring to the table. This frankly is UConn’s strongest argument for joining the league. It’s all about the money and UConn has access to new money.
Competitiveness and Reputation
In terms of football, UConn falls pretty far back in this category, but in basketball, they immediately make the league significantly better. In terms of football, the program is improving but is not close to the same level as current schools like Texas or Oklahoma and not nearly as strong as hopeful BYU and Boise State (a long shot I think). UConn basketball is incredibly strong in basketball, both men’s and women’s, and it without a doubt the best school to add for basketball competitiveness.
Another challenge is attendance, which for example is 58,000 per game at BYU and a measly 27,400 last season at UConn. UConn’s stadium only holds around 40,000, which is the tiny relative to most big-time programs. Not particularly exciting numbers and not in UConn’s favor.
It all comes down to money and where the Big XII feels the future cash will come from. If they feel a network and expanding into new media markets is key, then UConn will be atop the list and give them a great option to break into the New York market. If they value football strength above all else, UConn is screwed and won’t have a shot. The fact that the league is looking to expand was a bit of a shock, so at this point, no one has any idea what the future will bring. The one thing I know is that if the Big XII expands and takes more than 1 AAC school, the AAC will fall even further off the map in terms of credibility and strength and those left will be in the league will be in a tough spot going forward.