It was announced yesterday that after months of will-they, won’t-they, the Big XII will not enter a period of expansion. This decision leaves UConn and others out in the cold and stuck in their current conferences. For those who have been following this closely and were excited about the possibility of a conference move, this may seem like a negative for UConn athletics. For me, the longer the process wore on, the more I felt a Big XII move would be better than the AAC, but still not a great fit.
Let’s start with the most obviously reason: football competition. Through 7 games this year, UConn football is 3-4 (1-3 in the AAC). If this UConn team was in the Big XII, there is a real chance they would be a 1-win or no win team at this point in the season. With 1 or no wins, fan support would be at rock bottom and TV ratings would be even lower. They would get a recruiting bump from moving to a more prominent conference, but that impact wouldn’t be visible for at least 3 years after the move. That means another at least 3+ years of terrible football with no bowl appearances and no success. Yes the matchups would be more interesting, but success drives fans and viewership, not matchups.
The second is the obvious challenge from the beginning: travel. Of the 10 teams currently making up the Big XII, 4 are in Texas, 2 are in Kansas, 2 are in Oklahoma, 1 is in Iowa, and 1 is in West Virginia. The closest to UConn, West Virginia, is 524 miles from the Storrs campus and the furthest is Texas Tech at nearly 2,000 miles away. With away games being such great distances from home, the travelling fan base (what limited one there already is) would take a significant hit (especially if the team isn’t going to win many games on the road). Like the competition, this isn’t a deal breaker, but makes the Big XII less than ideal for UConn.
Regardless of whether you loved this potential move or were unsure, it’s now off the table. The AAC appears to be the home for UConn athletics for the near future. If another opportunity arises, I’m sure UConn will be front and center making a case, but so long as football is the main money driver in college athletics, a big move will be relatively hard to come by unless something turns around quickly. Below .500 in a mediocre conference doesn’t do anyone any favors.