Published March 30. 2014 4:00AM
This just in: The only school in the country with basketball teams of both genders still breathing amid The Madness resides in Storrs, Conn. Makes you wonder: Could this possibly help UConn during the next bout with expansion and realignment or is its usefulness merely rhetorical?
Athletic director Warde Manuel wasn't going there Saturday, having just flown from Broadway to the cornfields to watch the women advance to the Elite Eight.
Manuel: "The benefit of this is to show the great success both our men's and women's teams have had and have sustained. It shows the rest of the country the level of commitment that we have to multiple programs and success. What's most important to me is that we have student-athletes and programs that are supportive with great coaches who win.
"It shows our fans that we have the pride they expect us to have and the determination and effort they expect from us. With success, you hope would come additional support in terms of people not only coming to games and buying tickets, but to donate to help us retain great coaches with great success."
It would do Manuel no good to speculate on an expansion process that's often absurd. But common sense suggests that this kind of exposure can't hurt.
It was entirely fitting, too, that the Huskies were here in newly refurbished Big Ten country Saturday, upon learning they're the lone surviving, two-program school. Think about it. Big Ten country.
And imagine if you're, say, the athletic director here in the land of Big Red waking up in the middle of the night thinking, "Wait a minute. When we expanded, we took … Rutgers?"
In the Big Ten. The Big Ten, whose men's basketball teams haven't won a national championship since 2000 (Michigan State) and whose women's teams haven't since 1999 (Purdue with Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas).
Think UConn might have been the better choice?
Sorry. There we go again lamenting. As Oliver Stone cautions in "JFK," what is past is prologue. So maybe this weekend helps the Huskies moving forward. Big Ten, ACC, Big XII. Whatever. It's better than Elba.
Still, it's vexing to think how Rutgers could never do this. Never. Forget about ever being good enough to have men's and women's teams in the Elite Eight.
How about having a fan base that took over the city Friday night and will do so again today?
Rutgers. To the Big Ten. Because of the number of televisions in the proximity to the big, bad city. No, really. That was the clincher. The Big Ten gets the New York market, none of whose televisions are ever tuned to Rutgers. The New York market, which UConn owns with its programming on SNY. The New York market, which became a Connecticut annex on Friday night when UConn fans staged a coup d'état on the World's Most Famous Arena.
Sorry if this constitutes flag waving. And we realize this isn't football, which is more important than an aorta. But if this basketball success rolls on, it's on Bob Diaco to make UConn football move the needle. The Huskies won't get big points for success within the American. But if Diaco can create a buzz, the next round of expansion has no choice but to come through Route 195.
What we're experiencing should be UConn's new frame of reference. Diaco brings energy that should rescue the program from levels of boring that rivaled math class. The days of the Calhoun academic sanctions have passed. This is a new time. UConn's time.
The men play today for a berth in the Final Four. One year after being excluded from the tournament. It could have handcuffed the program for years. Instead, Kevin Ollie endured and prevailed. It would be some national story next week.
The women play Monday night for another berth in the Final Four. The biggest brand in women's basketball, going for a record ninth national championship.
This is UConn's time.
And they actually took Rutgers.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.