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UConn appears headed back to Big East, but what does it mean for USF?

Various reports indicate Connecticut will return to its former hoops-driven league
OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF defensive end Kirk Livingstone (94) tackles Connecticut quarterback David Pindell (5) during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, October 20, 2018.
Published Jun. 22
Updated Jun. 23

The college athletics landscape received a jolt ― more startling than seismic ― on Saturday when widespread reports surfaced that Connecticut plans to bolt the American Athletic Conference and return to the Big East in 2020.

Naturally, the news spawned a litany of questions. The most glaring: Whom ― if anyone ― does the AAC seek to replace the Huskies? And what happens to UConn football if the school jumps to a conference (Big East) that doesn’t sanction that sport?

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More on those later. Locally, some Bulls fans may be asking how it affects USF, which is a far simpler one to answer.

Very little.

There’s no effect on football, aside from the obvious one-game hole the Bulls ― and every other AAC team ― would have on their schedule.

Frankly, Huskies football had regressed into an albatross of sorts for the AAC, clearly the nation’s sixth-best conference in a Power Five world. In fact, the loss of UConn, which has averaged exactly three victories over the past six seasons, might be deemed by some as addition by subtraction; any school brought in to replace the Huskies almost certainly would be an upgrade.

The loss of UConn men’s hoops smarts a bit more because of the strength of the Huskies brand, though UConn hasn’t been a national factor in recent years. In baseball, the highly underrated AAC would be losing one of its best programs, though that sport doesn’t move the needle in terms of revenue.

But women’s basketball is different. The departure of that sport’s premier brand from the AAC would represent a boost and bruise for USF.

On the down side, the stature of the AAC ― barely one of the nation’s top 10 RPI conferences even with UConn ― would tumble. On the positive side, USF would be in position to contend for conference titles annually.

For four consecutive seasons (2015-18), the Bulls women lost to UConn in the title game of the AAC tournament. Get the picture?

And even in years when USF doesn’t win an AAC tourney devoid of UConn, it still could earn an at-large NCAA Tournament berth by, say, reaching 20 wins and performing well in its annually daunting non-conference slate.

As for the other pressing questions regarding this bombshell from the Northeast, the answers will come with time.

It’s hardly far-fetched to suggest the AAC could add another school only for football (similar to its current deal with Navy), then invite another strong basketball program, such as it did recently with Wichita State.

It also could choose to add nobody, instead going with only 11 football-playing teams and dropping divisional play. Keeping UConn as a football-only partner seems highly unlikely, considering the Huskies’ dreadful recent history.

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Financially, UConn’s exit should have no bearing on the new media rights deal the AAC recently reached with ESPN. The AAC’s exit fee is $10 million, and schools must give 27 months’ notice, meaning UConn may have some negotiating to do in that area.

It all makes for a significant ripple effect.

Just not one that will make huge waves in the bay area.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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