Column: Realignment Not Over

Connecticut got snubbed again by the ACC. Husky fans should not despair.

STORRS - Rejection is never easy. That's why Wednesday has been such a difficult day for the University of Connecticut and Huskies fans everywhere.

The Atlantic Coast Conference left the Huskies at the altar again, proposed to Louisville, and a shotgun marriage ensued. (At the end of the day, isn't it amazing how quickly these realignment unions get signed, sealed and delivered.)

UConn fans should stay away from the website www.gocards.com. That's the official athletics site for the Cardinals and by Wednesday morning, not long after the ACC presidents made it official with a vote, visitors were being greeted with the banner headline ACCARDS with ACC in white and the rest in bold, red letters to signify the merger.

There's a lot of gloom and doom in Husky Nation right now. That's understandable. As soon as Maryland made its surprising announcement that the Terps were leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, everyone snapped to attention and said this was UConn's chance to leave the dying Big East and jump to the ACC.

It was a chance. But don't sit around pouting and thinking this was the last chance. Realignment is far from over. It's crazy. It's spinning out of control. It makes no sense. But I doubt it is over.

The king of realignment is ACC commissioner John Swofford. Just look at his record. He started this when the ACC swooped in on the Big East back in 2003, and came away with Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. That was the end of a Big East football conference with national championship aspirations.

Now the ACC has come back and lured away Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville. West Virginia is already in the Big 12 and TCU entered the Big East but left before ever playing a game. Rutgers is going to the Big Ten.

The Big East countered yesterday with the addition of Tulane in all sports and East Carolina in football only. Are you kidding? Yawn.

The ACC looks more like the Big East every day. The Big East is Conference USA merged with Boise State and San Diego State. SMU, Houston, UCF, Memphis and Navy? Big East schools? Last year I joked with a couple of Big East officials that I could no longer keep track of all the additions or what year they would be joining without having it written down. I was told not to worry because much of it would never happen - at least according to the schedule we now have.

And that brings us back to Louisville and Swofford. The ACC presidents knew – likely because Swofford told them – that Louisville was the right move at this time. Why? Easy. Louisville is attractive and another conference (perhaps the Big 12) would have invited the Cardinals in time. Louisville was willing to move anywhere just to get out of the Big East.

UConn, on the other hand, has made it clear it wants to hook up with the ACC. The Huskies don't really have another option. Cincinnati may not either. That might be why the Bearcats aggressively pursued the ACC in the last few days.

The ACC doesn't care that UConn is brokenhearted today. If the ACC needs to come back and pluck another school or two, the folks on Tobacco Road know UConn will still be hanging out – virtually begging.

UConn administrators think Louisville could still pull a TCU and head to the Big 12. Talk to people in the Big 12 and they satisfied and more than happy to be a 10-team conference. It's a good number for scheduling and there's a lot more money to share. The Big 12 is in a great spot. But eventually, if this trend continues, the Big 12 might have to take on more members too.

Think about that. Just a few months ago, the Big 12 was about to implode. If Oklahoma and Texas had pulled out, schools such as Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State were going to share that rejected feeling that UConn has right now. But it all worked out.

UConn president Susan Herbst and athletic director Warde Manuel must continue working all the angles. The Huskies must remain a player. Louisville is lucky to have AD Tom Jurich, who is well known and has many years of experience. He runs a good athletic program and he is trusted nationally. Manuel and Herbst are still too new to the scene to have the same leverage and that hurts UConn.

Those who thought Boston College was the only roadblock in UConn's path to the ACC were clearly wrong. It's obvious the ACC membership has further issues with UConn. In the long run, it seems the ACC was more impressed by Louisville's overall commitment to athletics. Even though UConn defeated Louisville on Saturday, the Cardinals are in a position of overall strength with their football program.

And despite three national championships in men's basketball, the recent NCAA sanctions and academics issues in the program were perceived as a negative, especially in the aftermath of Jim Calhoun's retirement. UConn has made headlines for the wrong reasons lately. That will go away with time and maybe the ACC just wants the luxury of that distance.

Shrinking attendance at all UConn events must be considered part of the problem. Remember that pathetic crowd at the North Carolina State game this football season at Rentschler Field? The ACC noticed, you can be sure. The UConn brand - including merchandise sales, popularity and image - is suffering and that doesn't help when it comes to these significant decisions.

Most athletic administrators I've talked to recently can't explain the things happening. That's a concern. Maryland's move from the ACC seemed to shock everyone. When the athletic directors at North Carolina and Virginia feel compelled to issue statements that they aren't interested in leaving the ACC, it's obvious we are in strange times.

That's why there's still hope for UConn, even though the rejection hurts so much today.


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