On the surface, the re-admittance of Connecticut to the Big East may not seem like a perfect fit.
In a reorganized conference of smaller private universities, most of them Catholic, UConn is a large public state institution. Its addition gives the Big East 11 member schools, meaning a 20-game conference schedule and a revamped tournament with five first-round byes instead of six, plus an extra game on night one.
For Villanova coach Jay Wright, however, UConn is the right team coming into the conference.
“I don’t think there’s any other school out there that fits being a part of the Big East more than UConn,” Wright said Thursday after conference commissioner Val Ackerman announced at a New York news conference that the Huskies, a charter member when Big East competition began in 1979, were back.
“So it’s 11 teams, not the nice even number of 10, true. And they are a state school, true. But all the other things – the national basketball brand, the tradition, the Northeast, the history, the rivalries, all that, is just so valuable to us that I think it’s worth it.”
To Villanova, it’s like Connecticut never left the Big East. The Wildcats will be taking on the Huskies in a non-conference game for the third straight season, this year at Wells Fargo Center, having won the previous two seasons at XL Center in Hartford, Conn., and at Madison Square Garden.
“It was always one of the great rivalries for us,” Wright said. “When they came down here to play at what used to be the Wachovia Center, or even the Spectrum, their fans always traveled. Then when we’d go up there, there were always a lot of Villanova alums from Connecticut, great interest up there."
Currently a member of the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies will re-enter the Big East at a date to be determined but no earlier than July 1, 2020, according to Ackerman. She said there were “no plans at this time” to add a 12th team.
The 20-game Big East schedule will require a closer look at non-conference scheduling but Wright said the Big 5 portion of it was safe.
“Obviously we value the Big 5,” he said. “This is kind of new, it just came to us here. So getting to 20 league games is definitely something we have to look at. We have to figure this out. But the Big 5 is an important part of our non-conference schedule.”
During its 34 seasons in the Big East, Connecticut made its mark as a national power in men’s and women’s basketball. The Huskies’ men won 10 regular-season championships and seven conference tournament titles while capturing national championships in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
The Huskies women earned eight of their 11 national championships as a Big East school, and won 16 conference tournament titles in a 19-year span from 1994 through 2012.
Ackerman said talks with Connecticut “really got going” after the end of last basketball season and the process accelerated in the last two weeks. The votes on both sides were unanimous – the 10 Big East presidents on Monday and the university’s board of trustees on Wednesday.
The challenge now for UConn is finding a home for its football program. Athletic director David Benedict said the program will remain at the FBS level and that any plan would commence after he speaks with American commissioner Mike Aresco.
“That’s where it’s got to start,” he told reporters after the news conference. “Based on what comes of that conversation, we’ll know what the next steps are. But the commitment to football is there.”
In a statement released by the AAC, Aresco said, “We wish UConn well. We will next address the exit procedure mandated by our conference bylaws.”