I was an insider here many, many years ago. I haven’t posted here in over half a decade, but decided to check in on Friday, when I got word UConn was going to get an invite. And honestly, a lot of the responses/reactions are surprising. So I wanted to offer some feedback and maybe a ray of hope for those that feel this is the wrong move.
Just as an fyi, my clients are people at ABC/ESPN, Fox, CBS, inside the Big 12, SEC, ACC, and Big Ten (but not the Pac-12 or NBE). So while I’m not privy to every detail, I know & understand a lot of the mechanations of realignment.
First, for those believing UConn shouldn’t have given up the P5 dream..that dream was never going to come to fruition. Unfortunately, P5 realignment is all about dollars. And dollars are delivered by eye balls. Simply put, UConn doesn’t deliver the eye balls necessary to justify the paycheck they’d receive from a conference like the ACC or Big 12. The Big 12 vetted UConn heavily a number of years ago. What they learned was UConn’s value to their TV partners (ABC/ESPN/Fox) was well less than the paycheck they would have to pay UConn as an equal member. This is why the Big 12 came out and announced they were vetting schools, then opted to not expand. Point blank, their partner networks came back and said the per team payout would drop if they added UConn, UCF, USF, BYU, Houston, Cincy, or Memphis (the 7 schools they vetted). Networks run all kinds of numbers when it comes to TV…regional viewership, national viewership, cross-promotional viewership (i.e. fans of other teams that watch your games b/c they either hate you or your Ws/Ls impact their team), etc. UConn’s numbers are way too low, with very little prospect of ever getting them up. It’s just a small fan base where it counts (football). And in case anyone’s thinking the obvious, yes, I would imagine the ACC regrets some of their expansion decisions. The ACC makes less money today on a per member basis than it’d have made had they not expanded with BC, Syracuse and Pitt. Those were really poor additions and the TV numbers in their regions and within their fan bases has been abysmal.
Second, the NBE has outperformed their TV contract handily. And not only have their TV #s been way better than forecast, they’ve won 2 National Championships in the last 4 years. So the conference’s contract is way under-valued. The problem is, they signed a long-term contract that doesn’t expire until spring 2026. The only way their contract can be opened back up for revaluation by Fox, is if there is a change in their membership. Adding UConn allows the Big East to bring their contract up to market value based on the Big East’s performance on TV the past 5-6 years + UConn’s value. So that contract is going to seriously, seriously jump in value. And, UConn is going to provide a significantly greater boon to the NBE’s TV payout than they ever would have in the ACC or Big 12, simply b/c if you look at the historical ratings for basketball, the highest annual TV rating (b-ball) for most programs in the OBE was against UConn. The NBE adding UConn for basketball would be a poor man’s version of the Big Ten adding Notre Dame for football. There’s so much history & bad blood there, the ratings will be outstanding. So if you’re looking at the current AAC payout and comparing it to the current NBE payout, and thinking “this sucks, what the **** are they thinking?!?!…..when the dust settles, UConn will make MORE money in the NBE (+ whatever they do for football) than they were making in the AAC.
From a financial perspective, this is going to be a huge win for UConn. The big question is how this affects ticket sales for football. But looking at recent attendance data, I assume UConn’s leadership felt a move of the football program out of the AAC couldn’t hurt that revenue stream enough to off set the huge jump they’ll get from the NBE side.
Lastly, I get that when you’re emotionally invested and grew up a die hard fan, the NBE feels like kissing your sister. But outside the region, the NBE is very, very well respected. It’s not a little brother conference in the eyes of college sports fans. I’m in TX and can tell you the NBE is respected right alongside the ACC. Adding UConn is only going to bolster that. And from a perception & recruiting standpoint, it will be a HUGE benefit for UConn. Obviously, coaching is key #1, but it just became a lot easier for Hurley to sell the program to recruits. There was no chance for UConn to flourish in any sport in the AAC. Sure, they could win some games in football and basketball, the same as UCF, etc. But UCF is still pulling in peon recruits on the level of the worst P5 programs, even with two straight years of elite production. So all UConn could ever hope for is to be a big fish in a small pond, who’s TV viewership numbers are too small to ever get a P5 call up. At least in the NBE, UConn basketball can get back to being one of the flagship programs in college basketball. That wasn’t going to happen playing Tulane and SMU.
Also, you can expect the NBE to stay at 11 teams. They’re going to want a round robin schedule, which is doable with 11, but problematic with 12.