Connecticut is on the verge of leaving the American Athletic Conference to join the Big East for all sports except football starting in the 2020-21 season, according to multiple reports nationwide on Saturday and first reported by Digital Sports Desk.
According to CBS Sports, the Big East has scheduled a teleconference for early next week in which its presidents are expected to ratify UConn’s return to the conference and UConn’s Board of Trustees has planned to vote and approve the move on Wednesday.
When reached for comment by the Eagle, an AAC official said the conference will not have a statement on the reports.
UConn still has to figure out what to do with its football program because the Big East does not sponsor the sport. According to sources in the New Haven Register, UConn is not considering dropping the program and could move forward as an independent.
For UConn, the move would return its basketball teams to their Big East roots and renew rivalries with Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul. The Big East is also a slight uptick in competition level, at least in men’s basketball, as the Big East has been ranked significantly higher than the American in KenPom rankings the past six years.
Technically, UConn never left the Big East. It was a founding member of the conference in 1979. But the conference dramatically changed in 2013 during conference realignment, which saw football-playing Big East schools leave to join the ACC and Big 12 and the Huskies on the outside looking in from the Power Five conferences.
In men’s basketball, UConn won the national championship in 2014, the first year in the American, but has since been somewhat of a disappointment in the conference in the past five years. The Huskies have a combined conference record of 55-53 with no top-four finishes. UConn finished 16-17 overall and ninth in the 12-team conference last season in coach Dan Hurley’s first year at the helm.
Fans have clamored to return to the Big East, where they view UConn as a more natural fit. When news broke on Twitter late Friday evening and early Saturday, it was met by nearly unanimous approval from UConn fans.
But UConn’s abrupt leaving isn’t likely going to sit well with the American, which would be left with 11 football and basketball-playing schools.
The AAC exit fee is $10 million when schools give at least 27 months notice. Because UConn wants to leave earlier, the fee would be negotiated.
“I’d be surprised if this ends pretty,” a source told CBS Sports. “(UConn) never fully embraced the American.”
Wichita State has had some memorable moments in its two years with UConn in the American.
The Shockers played their first AAC men’s basketball game at Connecticut on Dec. 30, 2017 when they defeated the Huskies, 72-62, at the XL Center in Hartford. During its 14-4 close this past season, Samajae Haynes-Jones hit an improbable fade-away jumper as the buzzer sounded to lift WSU, 65-63, over UConn at Koch Arena on Feb. 28.
That could be the lasting memory of the Huskies at Koch Arena. The AAC released its men’s basketball pairings earlier this week with WSU only playing UConn once for the 2019-20 season, a road trip to Storrs.
Last season’s trip from the UConn women’s basketball team to Koch Arena is also likely to be its last. WSU will only play UConn once this upcoming season and it’s a road trip to Connecticut.
Because UConn has not been a contender in the AAC men’s basketball race recently, the loss doesn’t stop the American trending in the right direction of becoming a multiple-bid conference in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s likely the AAC will at least explore options to replace UConn to avoid an unbalanced, 11-team schedule in football and basketball. UAB, currently in Conference USA, was pushed as an option as a natural rival to several current AAC schools like Memphis and the Florida schools.