Calhoun: "Love Affair with UConn"

CROMWELL, Conn. – University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun declared Monday that the Huskies have "a great love affair" with the Big East Conference. "But the biggest love affair we have is with the University of Connecticut," Calhoun said.

That was Calhoun's way of telling the world that UConn is keeping its options open and still searching for the most competitive environment possible as college athletics enter the next phase of realignment reality. Calhoun made those comments, and many more, during the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast, an event he has participated in for 26 consecutive years.

UConn President Susan Herbst, just back from Sunday's meeting of Big East presidents in Washington, D.C., supported Calhoun's comments and said the process of extending invitations to potential new members of the Big East could be completed very soon.

"I think [Calhoun] put it as well as you could," Herbst said. "We love the Big East, we're very committed. But, you know, we've got to do what's best for Connecticut over the years as this landscape changes. I just don't see things settling for a long time. Who knows? We could be exactly where we're at for years. Or maybe there's going to be more change [sooner than that]."

The departure date from the Big East has not been set for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the two schools that shocked everyone with last month's news they are headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference. UConn, led by Herbst, immediately made it known the Huskies were interested in the ACC as well.

But the spinning wheel of realignment has slowed to a virtual halt and in the last week UConn officials have been more vocal about assisting the effort to keep the Big East together.

Herbst and the other presidents and chancellors from the 14 remaining Big East members on Sunday authorized Big East commissioner John Marinatto to enter into expansion discussions with specific institutions interested in joining the conference.

It has been widely reported that Air Force and Navy are at the top of the Big East's expansion list – as football members only. Temple, a former Big East football league member has been discussed as a possible full member. Villanova, Central Florida and East Carolina are other possibilities.

Herbst said the presidents presented Marinatto with "good ideas" and she expects the commissioner to act promptly. The conference presidents meet again in November in Philadelphia and Herbst said the Big East plan should be publicly known by then.

"We want those conversations [with other schools] to go quickly now," she said. "I think the next couple of weeks, he really should be cranking on those."

Herbst said no one in Sunday's meeting tried to pin her down on UConn's position.

"No, it was very collegial," she said. "I think everyone understands the decisions made represent their boards and their entire fan base. So people are pretty cautious in there. But in the Big East, the schools are very different. Part of the meeting is everybody kind of reminding each other what their particular position is."

Calhoun seemed to sense the large gathering at the Crowne Plaza hotel had realignment on its mind along with the scrambled eggs, bacon and orange juice.

"We've had wonderful accomplishments but sometimes things do need change," Calhoun said. "We've been very happy in the Big East. But if you think, by any stretch of the imagination, that we are running any place, we're not. We're not letting anything go.

"Always remember we're going to be playing intercollegiate athletics in a conference. Line them up; let's play them. But we're going to go to the best place we think for us. And we have made no determinations. We're going to do what's best for Connecticut. We've worked too hard to get where we are. We've worked too hard to let anyone stop us."

Can that destination still be the Big East, given the departure of Syracuse and Pitt, and everything that has followed?

"Sure, it's possible," Herbst said. "But there's a lot of uncertainty right now. Nothing that anybody says is definite."

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