UConn to the BIG EAST
BOSTON – Hundreds and hundreds of UConn fans blew hard last Saturday. They had a 2008 Fiesta Bowl appearance in mind, and just wouldn’t let it go. While they loved the idea of partying at STOUT and paying $13.75 per beer at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN a March or so from now, they just couldn’t let the football program go.
A week has passed, press conferences stashed, and the rumors thrashed and cashed.
The University of Connecticut Huskies will be playing in the big-time once again, participating for the titles in the BIG EAST Conference for men’s and women’s basketball and a whole slew of some 20-something “Olympic” sports, they say.
Maybe a little like “Last Week Tonight,” by John Oliver on HBO, we’ll take a deep dive into the situation and it will be the final piece in a jig-saw puzzle tossed up and messed up many moons ago, when Boston College headed off for Atlantic Coast Conference pastures in 2005. It was all downhill since.
The truth of the matter is that Boston College did what was right for Boston College, not the Big East or the ACC. while it made life harder for the Chestnut Hill crowd to see road games or for the BC Eagles to hit the books after weeknight games at Wake Forest, the coveted place in the ACC was right and good for the BC Athletic Department, then led by Gene DeFillippo.
Fast forward to a week ago, when all the rage was about UConn Football, millions upon millions raised from donors, high expectations (which fell to 1-11, overall) in the Win-Loss column. Not an Exit 68 soul wanted UConn to be compared to UMass or even BYU. The high and mighty Huskies wanted it all. But, it just wasn’t meant to be, as American Conference Commish Mike Aresco made it quite clear to the Huskies to not let the door hit them on the way out – “Exit Fee” of an amount “TBD” deposited swiftly.
All that said, what was the one common theme at the Thursday, at high noon press conference, staged by the Big East and hosted by their friend Joel Fisher at The Garden? It was the perfect setting as BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman stepped up to the microphone to put the pieces back together for one wayward University who came home.
Geography Class! Yes, everyone passed their geography final on Thursday and it was splendid.
First up, was UConn women’s basketball coach Luigi “Geno” Auriemma
“I think because there was some discussion a few years ago, when they had a little bit of traction, but it didn’t seem like the two sides could agree,” said Auriemma while reminiscing of Padron Anniversary ’64s smoked in the Year 2000 after gold medal victories in Sydney. “I just thought it was a dead issue. So, when it was re-ignited, I thought there was a little hope.
“This could be really exciting. I’m realistic and I understand there’s no Syracuse and no Notre Dame or Louisville, and I get that,” he noted, “but there’s something about being in your environment, being in your sphere of influence, so for me – as much as I’ve enjoyed the conference affiliation we had with the AAC, I know the Big East, I know all the coaches and I’ve spent a lot of time with them over the years. We managed to play a bunch of them and stay in touch with them.
“I’ll tell you when it will really hit me, it’ll be the first time I walk into one of those arenas,” said Auriemma, shaking the shivers from his spine as he said it, thinking about those northeast USA regional rivals. “We’ll walk into one of those arenas and say, “how many chances do you get to do it again?’ It’s really a big thrill.”
On the bigger picture?
“In totality, what makes the most sense for our University to be doing at this place and time,” said as he posed a question for himself, the Hall of Fame coach? “Each sport will then figure out what ‘is great for us,’ and we’ve been dealing with that ever since the original Big East broke up.
“I think we finally made a decision for the University and it takes a lot of courage to make the decision, and say, ‘We’re going to have to do what’s best for us as a University, not what is best for a particular sport because we were being obligated or we’re being pushed in a certain direction and we hope that we do it right.
“Not an easy decision to make, obviously,” concluded Auriemma with the grin of a cool cat from Cheshire.
UConn president Susan Herbst picked it up from there, “For the tennis player for the swimmer and for all the Olympic sports student-athletes, it’s all about geography and travel.
“They’ll be more attracted to UConn if they’re scholarship-ready or a walk-on because it’s a place their parents can drive to as it makes us way more competitive with regard to the sports in this Tri-State area. We’ve already seen some of the kids we were trying to recruit, they’re eyes are wide open.
“As a Mom, I think about this too,” said the outgoing administrator readying to step back but at the same time teach Political Science at the University, “we really love the Big East because the family can come and watch a lot of games. If they’re living in New Jersey or out on the Island (Long Island, NY), they can come to St. John’s or make the drive to Villanova and get home that same night,” said Herbst noting the more recent treks to Witchita, Kansas.
“Those things mean a lot. We always talk about .. the student-athletes, what does it mean for the student-athletes … but when you see a school make this kind of decision, you know they’re focused on (the vast majority) of the student-athletes,” concluded Herbst.
Next up was the best conference Commissioner in all of college sports, in Ackerman.
“The difficulties of travel that UConn had with the “American,” which is a fantastic conference, were noted to us. I think that was one of many factors that they considered,” said Ackerman as she focused her thought with the laser she’s always been noted for since days at the NBA or helping USA Basketball do well and do good around the world.
“It’s often lost, because football plays once a week and if you have a cross-country trip, the length of that trip is minimized, but if you’re the field hockey team (UConn remained in the BE with that sport), if you’re playing baseball or whatever and you’ve got to take a long commercial flight for a long road trip, it really has an impact on student-athlete welfare. So, for that reason, or it was one of the reasons, this was an attractive option.
“In basketball, as well, the ability to take a bus ride, it was a big consideration, as well.
“We have 22 sports in the Big East. They’re all fantastic. We have great coaches and staff that run 20+ sports, so (as a league/conference), we do everything we can for them but everyone does understand that the focus is basketball and its the engine.
“It doesn’t mean those sports are not important, but everyone in our league is pretty realistic about the place of basketball from the beginning. That fell away a little and now we’re able to re-create some of that past,” said Ackerman.
Here Now, The Notes: A year to the date that Capital Gazette sports reporter John McNamara was senselessly murdered in his suburban Annapolis news bureau, the President of the United States* Donald Trump, while speaking to Russian president Vladimir Putin irresponsibly joked, “Get rid of them,” Trump said, referring to the pool reporters covering the meeting. “ ‘Fake news’ is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.” … Putin returned the snark and b.s. (in English, none-the-less) unaware of the anniversary of a crazed maniac killing five employees of the newspaper a year ago. … New York Mets rookie slugger Pete Alonso said he will take part in this year’s MLB Home Run Derby. … “It’s just something I have always looked forward to,” Alonso said Friday in the New York Post. “I grew up kind of the same person I am now. Kind of just a big power hitter and something like, ‘Man, hopefully I get to do this someday,’ so I am really excited and hopefully I get to be in the game, too.” … The Home Run Derby will be held July 8, a day before the All-Star Game in Cleveland. Pitchers and non-starters for the All-Star Game will be announced Sunday night. … Alonso had 28 dingers at press time, two more than the NYM team record for rookies. … Bob Ley of ESPN decided to retire from his post with the sports network this week. we wish him very well in his retirement and any new ventures he might begin soon. It’s been written often, that Ley is on the Mt. Rushmore of ESPN anchor fame, joining the likes of Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann and the late Tom Mees and Stuart Scott, among others.
Suffolk Downs is hosting its final races this weekend and when it shuts down, it will be the last of New England’s thoroughbred race courses. Beginning this fall, New England horse racing fans will need to trek down to NYC (Belmont) or head off to see simulcasting. … According to the AP, “it’s not clear what comes next for the industry, which continues to receive millions of dollars in casino tax subsidies. The parent company, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, operated a few summertime races after losing its bid to build/house one of three Massachusetts Casinos (The Wynn/Encore won). … Digital Sports Desk is yet to make it over to the new (Wynn) encore Hotel and Casino in Boston. Time will tell. … St. John’s swingman L.J. Figueroa, the club’s best player from last season, is scheduled to play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming Pan American Games. He is expected to remain at St. John’s after initial reports he was considering a transfer out. … The Philadelphia 76ers were forced to issue a statement on the departure of one of their minority team owners. … “We can confirm that David Heller has sold his interest in Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment,” said the company statement attributed to no one, “which includes in its portfolio the Philadelphia 76ers. … In December 2018, David approached our leadership team to discuss the possibility of selling his stake in order to pursue other investment opportunities. David handled this with the same spirit of friendship and professionalism he had shown in his almost eight years as a limited partner at the 76ers and then HBSE. David departs our organization as a great friend and on great terms. … The team statement continued, taking a rip at local media reporting by stating, ” Unfortunately, there have been several media reports – most notably a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer – which have greatly mischaracterized David’s departure. Any assertion that David was “forced out” of our group is categorically false and irresponsible. We are also disappointed that The Inquirer did not reach out for comment or to seek clarity before publishing such claims, instead citing unnamed “sources.” … “Again, David was a great partner and is a great friend to this organization. We appreciate his time, effort, energy and partnership, and wish him well in his future endeavors.” … In an other development, Larry Baer will return Tuesday as president and chief executive officer of the San Francisco Giants after being suspended for a very public offseason altercation with his wife. Baer will return to the club in a reduced role said the team in its announcement that the executive has taken part in a required counseling program and “recommitted himself to the organization.” … MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced Baer’s suspension on March 26, nearly four weeks after Baer was placed on unpaid leave when a video surfaced of the fight with his wife, Pam. The footage captured by TMZ showed Baer aggressively pulling a cellphone from the hand of his wife at a public plaza in San Francisco. Pam Baer was heard screaming as her chair tipped over and she fell to the ground. … In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, acting president and CEO Rob Dean said that while the team’s board of directors and investors are “very supportive” of Baer, the franchise will be run in a “more collaborative manner.” … Dean told the newspaper he will be more active in day-to-day operations of the team than he was before Baer’s suspension, adding other team executives will assume some of Baer’s duties. … “The Giants will have many faces with one voice, where historically it really was Larry as the one face and one voice,” Dean said. … Baer will be easing back into the job. A Giants team statement said Baer’s initial focus will be “reconnecting with employees and receiving updates on all aspects of the organization.” … Baer issued a statement in advance of his return. … “I am truly sorry for letting you down,” it read in part. “While my time away has been difficult on many levels, it has allowed me opportunities for introspection and, with the help of some wonderful people, growth. I’ve been able to step back and take stock in myself as a person and a leader. I am wiser for it, and the work continues,” as reported by Field Level Media, the Digital Sports Desk content and wire service provider.
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