By John Fanta
NEW YORK – When the “Catholic 7” of Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul departed the ‘old’ Big East officially on June 30, 2013 to form their own version of the league, questions surrounded them.
Who would they add? How would they fare in the football-first culture of college athletics? Could they sustain success?
All of those questions have been answered, and with Butler, Creighton and Xavier added in, the latter two questions can be answered with a collective “thumbs up.” Just how successful has the reconfigured Big East been? The testament to the conference’s rise could be seen on Friday, June 28, 2019 inside Madison Square Garden.
UConn is going back to its roots of success, the same roots that the Big East turned to in 2013 and has proven can work in the current culture of college athletics. The same roots that have produced 32 NCAA Tournament bids out of a total of 60. The same roots that have seen Villanova rise to a modern blue blood in the sport, winning two out of the last four national titles and producing seven NBA Draft picks since 2014.
That success matters, and if UConn can be at the level that it’s capable of, the bar will only get raised in a Big East that has thrived.
While the Huskies have not appeared in the last three NCAA Tournaments, you only have to go back as recently to 2014 to find a men’s basketball national championship. With three others, all coming in their former Big East days, plus an NCAA record of 11 women’s national titles, the Huskies understand what it takes to be at the top of the sport.
When you account for the Big East record 10 regular season titles and seven tournament titles on the men’s side and a combined 37 regular season and tournament championships on the women’s side, UConn is part of the fabric of the conference and what it’s become.
“The opportunity to add a member who is a national basketball brand, who is in our geographic footprint, who has an outstanding fanbase, and who brings an added bonus of having a deeply-etched shared history with us and intense rivalries with our schools was simply an opportunity we could not pass up,” said Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman.
“Given the depth in our league, we expect that conference play in our league will be the toughest and most exciting in college basketball,” she added.
UConn fans are certainly matching, if not exceeding Ackerman’s excitement. In just the last week, season ticket sales have boosted by the thousands in Storrs.
The fanbase has responded, and so has Danny Hurley’s excitement.
“When you think about the tradition of this conference, it’s a dream come true to coach in the Big East,” said the second-year Huskies coach. “I think this can be huge in our evolution as a program, from recruiting to fan support. And when you think UConn and this league, it just feels right.”
While there may be reactions from other fan bases across the Big East who were just fine with the 10-team alignment, think of it this way. This solidifies stability even more, allowing potential re-negotiations with FOX Sports to start up on a deal that is up in 2025. In the current structure, each school receives over $4 million per year. That, combined with an already crazed atmosphere at The Garden for the Big East Tournament adding a strong UConn fanbase will only boost buzz. It just says no-brainer.
For schools like Providence and Seton Hall, the reconfigured Big East has opened up doors for success. That success hasn’t been a one-hit wonder, but sustained success that has featured five-out-of-six Big Dance trips for the Friars and a potentially unprecedented five straight for the Pirates. There’s a foundation laid for those programs, one that a singular program should not cause that much of a shift in the ability to win games. While UConn has state resources, the ability to win national titles should be any conference’s priority, and the Huskies’ ability to do that matters too.
That is especially true in Big East women’s basketball. No one in the conference has reached past the Sweet 16 since 2014. With UConn back, a perennial national title contender is in place and that will significantly assist the rest of the league’s RPI. At the end of the day, NCAA Tournament berths outweigh in-conference results.
The long-term results for UConn are unknown, but if they are anything like the short-term results that this move is providing in terms of branding, ticket sales and beyond, then ties of old days from the new will come true. When you consider that history, and what the Huskies can be nationally, that’s good news for the Huskies, and the Big East.
Follow @NCAAHoopsDigest and @John_Fanta for year-round college basketball coverage.