UConn’s time in the American Athletic Conference hasn’t gone quite as planned. While the conference grew out of the ashes out of the old Big East, it’s failed to recapture any of the magic from that conference, with the newly formed, basketball-focused Big East carrying the torch.
Facing a crossroads, UConn is set to return to the Big East in 2020 for basketball and in other sports, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Because the Big East doesn’t have football and the AAC will not allow UConn as a football-only member, they will need to find another solution for their football team.
TV is supposedly a big motivator in UConn’s move. When the AAC announced a new rights deal with ESPN, UConn publicly expressed unhappiness with the deal, citing a lack of broadcasts on linear TV for their men’s and women’s basketball teams, even though AAC schools were expected to earn more money and be on TV more often than the previous deal.
The early winner in UConn’s move will be Fox Sports. The Big East and Fox are in the middle of a 12-year rights deal, with CBS sublicensing some games. Not only will Fox benefit from having a basketball school like UConn join, this is also an opportunity for Fox to show more women’s college basketball now that they will have one of the best and most popular teams in the country at their disposal.
Losing UConn will somewhat hurt ESPN and their deal with the AAC, but not as much as one would think. As Yahoo notes, UConn leaving will not result in ESPN terminating their contract with the conference. Losing UConn women’s basketball will hurt ESPN a decent bit, but this also gives the network an opportunity to showcase other great basketball schools, including defending champs Baylor, finalists Notre Dame, and Pac-12 powerhouses Oregon and Stanford. And it’s not as if the UConn women will never be on ESPN’s airwaves, given that the network has the rights to the women’s NCAA Tournament.
As of now, UConn seems to have everything settled except for football. The two options will be either to go independent or join another conference as a football only member. Independent status is enticing on paper because that means the school can negotiate their own TV deal, but there isn’t a lot of national demand for UConn football. Based on that, UConn may be fit to join an existing conference for football.
There are a lot of moving parts before this goes into effect next year, but it seems UConn is ready to move on to somewhat familiar settings. The AAC is likely bringing in a replacement, and until we know who that is, we won’t know how UConn leaving will help or hurt the AAC. What we know for now is that Fox Sports and the Big East are set to welcome UConn in roughly 12 months.