UConn’s new TV deal for football, combined with the robust schedules assembled for the next five years, will provide the selling points coach Randy Edsall needs to kick-start recruiting.
“This is a really good day for us,” the Susquehannock High School graduate said in a conference call with reporters Monday, as the four-year agreement with CBS Sports was announced, “and it came at the right time because we’re right in the middle of recruiting kids from the 2021 cycle.”
The deal assures the Huskies, who have left the American Athletic Conference and will play as an independent in football, will have exposure, with most of the games to be played between 12:30 and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, something Edsall wanted. As he makes the recruiting rounds, albeit virtually during the coronavirus shutdowns, Edsall said he has been feeling the positive vibes in recent weeks.
“There’s no question,” he said. “Myself and our coaching staff, we really sat down and talked a lot about what is going to be our message and how are we going to market what we’re doing. By telling them, ‘Hey, we felt good about the television package’ and by telling them about the schedule we were playing, and how we’re going to play more Power Five [conference] teams now than what we would have staying where we were previously, that made a big impact with the kids we were talking to. So that helped us tremendously, and we’ve seen tremendous interest. ... Do we have a challenge ahead of us? Yes, we do. But we have an ability to go out and sell things to get the kind of kids we need to win."
One of the players that Edsall is attempting to lure is Central York High School quarterback Beau Pribula, who will be a junior in the fall. UConn has already made a scholarship offer to Pribula, who also has offers from schools such at Penn State, Nebraska, West Virginia, Rutgers, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Temple.
Huskies have struggled: UConn has not had a winning record since 2010, and is 6-30 since Edsall returned as head coach in 2017.
Under the agreement, CBS Sports Network will televise UConn’s scheduled games against Indiana, Liberty, Middle Tennessee and Army next season. Three other home games will be part of another agreement to be determined. After 2020, the CBS deal will cover games against ACC, Big Ten, Mountain West and Conference USA opponents.
“Adding UConn football to our already robust lineup of partners provides more high-quality football content for CBS Sports Network,” said Dan Weinberg, executive vice president for programming at CBS Sports. “We look forward to a long and successful relationship with UConn.”
Future schedules: Between now and 2025, UConn AD David Benedict has made agreements to play Illinois, Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Purdue, Clemson, Fresno State, Central Florida, Syracuse, Michigan, NC State, Boston College, Utah State, Duke, Tennessee, Maryland, Ohio State and Army.
“David and I had talked way back in June, who do you think we should play?” Edsall said. “Who would be good for our program? We said, ‘Here’s who we’d like to play because of recruiting.’ We were able to really stick to those guidelines and craft schedules that will really aid us from a recruiting standpoint, having kids here and their families seeing them and also going to places where they can get to.”
The scheduling is similar to 2002 and 2003, when UConn played as an independent as it was transitioning from the old Division I-AA status to the original Big East. The Huskies played BC, Georgia Tech, Miami, Temple, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Indiana, Virginia Tech, NC State, Rutgers and Wake Forest during those years, Edsall’s first stint with the Huskies.
“To have this kind of agreement,” Edsall said, “to have our games televised nationally on linear TV is big from a recruiting standpoint. A couple of things have to happen for your program to be able to obtain success, and one component is the television package, which now we have, and it’s going to be better for us than where we were before [in the AAC]. And then it’s the scheduling, and when you take a look at scheduling we’ve been able to do over the next five years, it’s put us in a position to go out and recruit the type of student athletes we’ll need to compete against that schedule.”
Improving financial picture: CBS Sports Network is available through major cable, satellite and telco distributors, OTT streaming service providers, YouTube TV, fuboTV, DirecTV and Hulu. Its stream is available through CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App.
Benedict didn’t reveal the financial terms of the deal, but listed factors that will improve the financial picture for UConn athletics as it moves to the Big East in most sports, and goes independent in football. UConn is not paying for production costs for CBSSN.
“By moving the majority of our sports to Big East, you’re saving significant money on the cost of travel," Benedict said. “We’ve estimated $2 million. Because of the way we chose to schedule [football], we’re going to play one guarantee game a year, which will provide opportunities to play at some very historic places on the biggest stages, a $1.2 [million] to 1.9 million proposition. Those two things in addition to being compensated for the TV deal and future revenues from the Big East, I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Consistent starting times should help: Consistent Saturday afternoon starts figure to help home attendance, which has flagged during the string of losing seasons.
The coronavirus could yet wreak havoc on UConn’s football plans for 2020, causing a delayed start to the season, or a shortened season that prompts some of UConn’s major conference opponents to pull out. It’s possible Benedict will have to reconfigure the schedule with more games against other independents.
Meanwhile, Edsall has been working with his staff, particularly strength and conditioning director Matt King, about how to prepare for the season with campuses closed and no reopening date established. The first game, against UMass, is scheduled for Sept. 3.
“We talk about that every Monday,” Edsall said. “With Matt’s recommendation, we would have to have our kids back on campus training by July 1 if we’re going to play a season [on time], four weeks of training and four weeks of practice. That’s our time frame to put our kids in best situation from a health and safety standpoint — not counting the virus.”