CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men’s basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport’s landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions, and will post the results over a three-week span.
Nearly all universities with Division I football programs would eagerly join what’s traditionally been called a “Power Five” conference if given the opportunity.
But would UConn do it? And should UConn do it?
Those are questions with some complicated answers.
On one hand, UConn accepting an invitation to join a league like the Big 12 or ACC would prove more financially lucrative, which is why some might see any move as a no-brainer. But, on the other hand, arguably no school has as much of its basketball identity tied to a conference as UConn’s basketball identity is tied to the Big East, which is why the school decided years ago to abandon the American Athletic Conference and rejoin the Big East even at the expense of turning its football program into an independent.
As you likely heard, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark recently acknowledged that his league has had conversations with UConn — but that those conversations are no longer happening because the Big 12 achieved his “dream scenario” and lured Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State from the Pac-12. In other words, the Big 12 is likely done expanding, at least for now. And there are no indications that the ACC is looking at UConn, at least not now.
Regardless, realignment is never actually stopped for good; conversations could start or restart at any moment. So, with that in mind, we asked roughly 100 college coaches the following question:
What is best for UConn: Stay in the Big East or try to join another conference like the Big 12 or ACC?
|Stay in the Big East||77%|
|Try to join the Big 12 or ACC||23%|
Quotes that stood out
On staying in the Big East
- “They’re synonymous with the Big East. I know football has to factor in, but UConn has to be about basketball. If you look at the past 25 years, they’re the best national power we have.”
- “They should stay in the Big East. Football can never [be consistently successful to the point} where they can compete with huge college-town universities where there is no pro team to root for.”
- “They just moved back [to the Big East] and it obviously has been the best thing that has happened to them. Rivalries matter. You’re recruiting at a ridiculously good clip. And I know money is a part of it, [but] I just love the old Big East games and hope they don’t change because it’s fun to have them back in the conference.”
- “We have seen this story play out already before. They are back home where they are supposed to be in the Big East and shouldn’t mess with it.”
- “For once, basketball should win out over football. Don’t leverage the golden goose for a hope football makes it.”
On leaving the Big East
- “They’re a little different than Gonzaga because of football. With UConn, even though the Big East is as good as it gets with their commitment to basketball, if they can add $30 million [annually] to their athletic budget [by joining another league,] I think that would be a win for them.”
- “My heart wants to say [that they should stay in ]the Big East, but … money talks.”
- “I get that the basketball programs love the Big East, but, as a university, you have to think bigger. If they can get tens of millions more dollars per year to join a different conference, they have to do it.”
- “They have a higher ceiling [as an athletic department than Gonzaga] because of football, and … I think the opportunity to make more money [in a new league is worth pursuing].”
- “They should try to join a Power Five league with football — for stability and financial security.”
More than three-quarters of the coaches we surveyed told us they believe UConn should pass on any future invitation to join the Big 12 or ACC because they think Dan Hurley’s program is best positioned to succeed as a member of the Big East.
They might be right.
But would the results be similar if we instead asked roughly 100 athletic directors? I doubt it. Because ADs tend to think with bigger-pictures in mind. And there’s a pretty simple case to be made that the best thing for UConn’s athletic department — not just its basketball programs, but its entire athletic department and school in general — would be to upgrade leagues whenever possible.
The thing that makes this complicated, though, is that there is no bigger discrepancy between a school’s football program and its basketball programs than the discrepancy between UConn’s football program and UConn’s basketball programs. At UConn, football is historically terrible while basketball is historically elite. That’s why when the school felt that its basketball programs were out of place after seven seasons in the American, UConn voluntarily made its football program an independent to get its basketball programs back home in the Big East. Since that move (in advance of the 2020-21 season), the women’s basketball program has made two Final Fours while the men won the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
The results speak for themselves.
And 77% of the coaches we surveyed more or less said those results should shape the answer to this question. If the Big 12 comes calling again, or the ACC starts calling someday, more than three quarters of the coaches we asked said UConn should leave well enough alone, politely pass and just stay put.
“The Big East is UConn’s home,” one coach insisted.
It would be a mistake to leave it again, most agreed.