With the news Saturday that UConn will soon join the Big East in all sports the conference sponsors, the Huskies’ football program finds itself in an uncertain spot.
The Big East does not sponsor football, so coach Randy Edsall’s program cannot follow UConn basketball to its new home, and the American Athletic Conference is unlikely to allow the Huskies to stay around as a football-only member.
Indications out of Storrs suggest dropping football altogether is not an option, which means the athletic department must map the program’s future in time for the 2020 season, if not sooner.
Edsall is a Susquehannock High School graduate.
For now, it’s difficult to say with confidence what UConn football’s future will hold. An athletic department statement Saturday said only that the school remains, for the moment, part of the AAC. Edsall has not commented publicly, aside from tweeting a gif that read, “I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing!”
But assuming the AAC indeed boots UConn, the school will seem to have two choices for its football program: join another conference or play as an independent.
Here is how each might work.
Join a new conference: Though some Huskies fans may dream of UConn football playing in a major conference such as the Big Ten or ACC, the jump to the Big East in all other sports almost certainly eliminates that possibility. And though some observers have argued that UConn would be best off dropping from the FBS to FCS level, that appears unlikely as well.
That means if the Huskies wind up in a new conference, it will likely be another FBS league a notch below the AAC.
The two obvious choices are the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA. The MAC currently features mostly midwestern teams but stretches as far east as Buffalo. Conference USA is largely concentrated in the Southeast, but geography didn’t stop UConn and SMU from competing against each other in the AAC and wouldn’t likely stop UConn and UTEP from meeting in Conference USA, if the fit made sense.
There’s no guarantee, however, that one of these conferences would wish to add the Huskies as a member for football. The MAC already has an even 12 schools, while Conference USA has 14. And it can’t help that UConn finished below .500 every season since 2010 and won only a single game this past fall.
CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd tweeted Saturday that the MAC and Conference USA had “no immediate interest” in UConn football, and although that could certainly change, the Huskies might be left to consider another option.
Play as an independent: UConn could also choose (or be forced) to put off finding a new conference and play as an independent, at least in the short term.
This path could offer several benefits. For one thing, UConn would have greater schedule flexibility, which could allow them to play regional and historical rivals more often and profit from more “guarantee games," in which powerhouse teams pay for home dates against opponents they are likely to beat. Instead of facing AAC teams the average fan feels little connection to, the Huskies could fill their schedule with match-ups more likely to draw crowds to Rentschler Field.
Independent status could also give UConn time to weigh its options. Once a school joins a new conference, it can be difficult (and expensive) to leave. By biding time as an independent, UConn can wait for the ideal situation to come along, as opposed to rushing into an imperfect fit just because it’s available.
Remaining independent, however, would mean forfeiting the stable, guaranteed payouts that come with conference membership. In that way, it’s likely the more financially volatile option.
Six FBS schools currently compete as independents: Notre Dame, Army, BYU, UMass, Liberty and New Mexico. Others, such as Temple and South Florida, have spent short stints as independents in the past as they transitioned to larger leagues. UConn itself was independent from 2000 to 2003, when it first jumped from FCS to FBS.