AP sources: UConn in talks to move back into Big East

June 22, 2019 - 6:02 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A University of Connecticut official says the school is working to leave the American Athletic Conference and return to the Big East for basketball and other sports.

The official confirmed Saturday that there have been talks with the Big East, but said they were not aware any invitation had been extended. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The school released a statement saying it is "our responsibility to always be mindful of what is in the best interest of our student athletes, our fans and our future. With that being said, we have been and remain proud members of the American Athletic Conference.

The Big East and American conferences declined to comment on the potential move, which was first reported by the website Digital Sports Desk.

UConn is changing presidents and had not been expected to finalize any move until Thomas Katsouleas takes over from Susan Herbst in August. The official said the school also has not decided what to do with its football program, a sport the current Big East does not offer.

But two other people with knowledge of the discussions also confirmed the negotiations and said an announcement from the schools and conference could come early next week.

The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no decision had been announced.

The conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10 million withdrawal fee and give 27 months' notice before leaving. But, those who spoke to AP said UConn would not be allowed to remain in the AAC for football beyond the 2019 season.

UConn was a charter member of the Big East, which was formed in 1979 and the Huskies never actually left the conference.

The AAC was formed by UConn and the other remaining conference schools in 2013 after the league's basketball-focused private schools broke away, eventually negotiating to take the conference name with them.

UConn became a national power in basketball as a Big East school, winning three men's titles under coach Jim Calhoun and eight women's NCAA championships under Geno Auriemma.

The school added another men's title and three more women's championships as members of the American.

UConn football also found some success in the Big East going to five bowl games, including the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. But when Big East football collapsed so did the Huskies' program, going 28-69 since that season.

UConn also expressed displeasure in March when the American and ESPN announced a new 12-year television contract designed increase revenue to the league's schools, but put many of its games on ESPN-plus, the company's subscription digital platform.

The new deal with ESPN kicks in in 2020-21, and does not change if the AAC has only 11 football teams, but the conference will explore bringing in a new member to stay at an even and more manageable 12, one of the people with knowledge of the situation said.

Wichita State, which does not have FBS football, also competes in the American, an addition made to boost basketball two seasons ago.

After the old Big East was picked apart in the last round of realignment — losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers — it managed to reconstitute as the American by bringing in mostly larger-media market schools with football upside such as Houston, Memphis, SMU and Tulane. The conference also brought in Navy as a football-only member.

American Commissioner Mike Aresco, who took the job as the Big East was trying to find a way to survive with football and before the basketball schools split, had a deal to bring Boise State and San Diego State into the conference as football-only members in 2012 but those Mountain West schools backed out.

Aresco also had talks with BYU, a football independent with its other sports in the Big West, but could not reach a deal.

The American has long wanted to add Army, but the service academy has been reluctant to join a conference and give up control of its schedule. Air Force, another Mountain West school, also has been a school that has interested the American.

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AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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