Given our history with both the Big East and the Connecticut Huskies, you probably noticed the weekend’s major news around both. UConn will leave the American Athletic Conference and head back to the Big East in all sports... except football, of course.
There’s a larger conversation around what this means for the Big East, AAC and UConn — and I’ll actually get to that in this week’s NunesLetter — but for us, there’s an additional interesting conversation around how this affects the Syracuse Orange.
On the football field, it’s pretty clear it doesn’t. UConn’s move back to the Big East means the Huskies have largely given up on football and being in a Power Five league. Without being in the AAC anymore, their most likely choices are independence, downgrading to FCS or a potential uneasy partnership with the MAC/C-USA (in that order). Given the ill-timed locker room revamp, seems that scrapping the program altogether is not an option.
But for men’s basketball, this does become a bigger deal for Syracuse — at least potentially. UConn’s recent downturn on the court was in part due to membership in the AAC, trapped among a disparate group of conference-mates with varying degrees of interest in basketball success. The league’s southern-focused geographic footprint took them outside of the tristate area that once exposed them to the top talent in New York City (as well as points beyond).
Without traditional rivals or membership in a major basketball conference, UConn fans became disengaged. And while we can argue chicken-or-egg, it coincided with a decline in on-court product. Recruits certainly noticed that and the lack of exposure to New York (despite what UConn’s marketing will tell you, Storrs isn’t a borough). This move now rectifies all of that.
It won’t guarantee success, but it will absolutely help. The Huskies now get annual games against traditional rivals like St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown and Providence, plus the rest of the new and old members of the current Big East who are all (aside from DePaul) fairly basketball-focused. That Northeast exposure will get fans involved and increase visibility with recruits. Some of those recruits will inevitably be Syracuse targets.
To what extent can UConn beat SU for those players, though? I’d argue they’re well positioned to do so, as we’ve battled the Huskies plenty of talent on the trail in recent years, and lost at various junctures while they were in the AAC. Assuming the move to the Big East puts Connecticut men’s basketball back on track to even something resembling an annual NCAA Tournament contender, you can see how they’ll contend for better players in New York, potentially utilizing the increased exposure there again to beat out the Orange (members of their own decidedly southern conference) more often.
Syracuse can’t do much about that, beyond winning, really. The program prioritizes one to two games in New York City each year and will continue to do so. The ACC has the league tournament there every few years as part of its rotation. That’s as much exposure as they’re getting, unless they start taking strides toward more regular season consistency and wins.
The good news is they can do that without a herculean effort. Orange basketball is doing just fine and is just over three seasons removed from a Final Four trip. If the 2019 class combines excellence and stability and SU secures a blue-chip 2020 target, then we’re looking good. Wins, of course, will keep Syracuse in front of the New York City-area recruits no matter how many games they play there (or don’t).
Is a stretch to think Syracuse will be affected here? Does it matter if we are given the revenue gap between the leagues that will only continue to grow? Share your own thoughts below.