If there were three successful athletic programs that came out of the most recent expansion/realignment quakes worse for the wear, they were all old Big East squads. Cincinnati has traditionally been good in basketball and the Bearcats have recently played in a BCS bowl. Connecticut has traditionally been great in basketball and the Huskies have recently played in a BCS bowl. West Virginia has traditionally been good in basketball and the Mountaineers have recently played in a BCS bowl.
But none of that helped those schools on the realignment front. Passed over by the ACC and SEC, West Virginia at least found money in the Big XII, if not nearby rivals or combatants with similar cultures. Cincinnati and Connecticut were simply passed over, period.
Now having to smile and say nice things about the American Athletic Conference (the rebranded Big East), UConn athletic director Warde Manuel isn’t closing the door on future moves:
“Since the NCAA has been around, since formation of the NCAA, if you look at the history, there’s been realignment of conferences for different reasons. I don’t proclaim to know if it will ever be done again. History will tell me at some point there’s going to be shifts.”
Manuel is correct. Eventually there will be more moves. College athletic conferences have been in a state of evolution for decades (though the past five years have seemed like a jump straight from the primordial ooze to upright man). The problem for UConn and Cincinnati, however, is that it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be making more moves anytime soon.
While it’s possible the Big Ten might look at UConn — that league picked Rutgers and Maryland over the Huskies in November — it’s doubtful Ohio State would want Cincinnati climbing aboard. It’s also possible that the ACC could decide to expand, but with 15 members in all sports but football, why add anyone else? (Unless, of course, ESPN says it would help sales of a new ACC Network.)
Perhaps the best hope for the UCs would be a decision by the Big XII to expand. But that league’s leaders have said the television networks have told them they really wouldn’t benefit by adding teams like Connecticut and Cincinnati.
Bearcat fans have already begun to pepper this website (East Carolina-style) with emails saying, “Hey, what about a UC/SEC marriage?” Such a move would push the SEC Network into Ohio, perhaps, but Cincinnati just doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an SEC school — flagship school, the only game in town athletically, big football stadium, etc. Most importantly, it’s doubtful the addition of Cincinnati would pay for itself.
There will be more realignment at some point — perhaps when a new super-division or rich schools is created, perhaps in five or 10 years when another spate of TV deals come up for renegotiation. But by that time, will UConn and Cincinnati have fallen so far behind cash-wise as to be even less attractive to potential suitors?