The new Big East is soon going to look a little more like the old Big East.
The University of Connecticut was officially introduced Thursday at Madison Square Garden as the 11th member of the Big East Conference, which will remain a 10-team league through the next school year.
Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said UConn’s date of entry hasn’t been confirmed, but it won’t be earlier than July 1, 2020.
The Huskies will remain in the American Athletic Conference for the 2019-20 season.
“We have no plans at this time to add a 12th member school,” Ackerman said.
“The University of Connecticut has announced its withdrawal from the American Athletic Conference,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said Thursday in a statement. “We wish UConn well. We will next address the exit procedure mandated by our conference bylaws. Our conference will continue to move forward in pursuit of its national goals in football, men’s and women’s basketball, and Olympic sports.”
UConn will compete in the Big East in 20 sports – everything except women’s golf and men’s lacrosse because the Huskies don’t field teams in those sports.
Once they join the Big East prior to the 2020-21 season, the conference will move to a 20-game conference schedule in men’s and women’s basketball – a change the Big Ten made last season, and one the ACC and Pac-12 have followed.
“If history is any guide,” Ackerman said, “you’re going to make our men’s basketball tournament at this arena that much better.”
Thursday’s press conference was filled with references to UConn’s last stint in the Big East and the many memories it created for fans over the years.
The day’s ceremonies led off with a nearly two-minute highlight video filled with old highlights of the Huskies and an interview with former UConn coach Jim Calhoun.
Ackerman made sure to note during her opening statement that UConn won 80 Big East titles across all sports in its first 30 years as a member institution.
“We achieved the most incredible wins and endured the most heartbreaking losses, many in this building,” UConn President Susan Herbst said during her opening statement, “but win or lose, we loved every second of it.”
“UConn is coming home.”
Ackerman and Herbst said preliminary conversations between UConn and the Big East happened after the basketball season; the parties involved quickly realized there was mutual interest.
Ackerman said the conference wasn’t “aggressively pursuing expansion,” but the Big East couldn’t pass up “this opportunity presented itself to re-admit a charter member who has as blue-blood a pedigree as anybody.”
There are still several unknowns, like when UConn will officially join the Big East, as well as the specifics regarding the financial investment it will take for the school to leave the AAC and join the Big East.
What will the future of UConn football look like, considering the Big East doesn’t compete in football?
The school doesn’t planning on dropping to the FCS level, sources told Stadium’s Brett McMurphy.
But it doesn’t have a definitive landing spot, either.
What will be the new format of the often-romanticized Big East men’s basketball tournament that’s held annually at Madison Square Garden?
Ackerman suggested the starting point for an 11-team tournament will be to have a tripleheader on Wednesday between the teams that finish sixth through 11th in the regular season.
The winners would then move on to the quarterfinals on Thursday, along with the top five teams.
But as the conference commissioner noted, that preliminary thinking is subject to further discussion.
It remains to be seen if the Big East’s television product will look any different. FOX controls all of the Big East’s TV rights and Ackerman said there are still six more years left in the long-term deal between the conference and FOX.
“Once the smoke clears here, we’ll get into discussions with FOX about what the future holds,” Ackerman said.
But you don’t need the smoke to clear to know that this move just feels right for the basketball-centric conference and a school that has often dominated on the hardwood in the last two decades.
Even though UConn won its fourth men’s basketball national championship in the first year of the AAC, the American never felt like home for the Huskies.
UConn has been one of the most successful basketball schools in the country – for its men and women – this century. Since class of 2020 recruits were born in 2001, UConn’s women’s basketball team has won nine national championships and its men’s team has won three, which is tied for the most nationally in that span.
The new-look Big East already has one nationally elite program in Villanova, which has won two of the last four national titles. By returning to its old conference, can UConn return to its old form as one too?