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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Why would the ACC ever want UConn?

    News item: Per a recent published report, part of UConn football coach Jim Mora’s recruiting pitch includes his “goal of (UConn) joining the ACC within the next few years.”

    Whoa. Did Mora come up with that one by himself? Is this part of The New Master Plan? What happened to all the blubbering about salvation tied to the Big East?

    Not that UConn and its carefully crafted media manipulation ever has to answer for anything anymore. But what would make Mora — and anyone else at UConn — think that the ACC wants UConn in the first place?

    The words of Carl Sagan: “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

    The universe as it really is: UConn gives the ACC nothing of significance, particularly as it relates to what moves the needle here in the roaring 2000s.

    UConn fans will read that and lapse into their greatest hits, namely the cachet of the two basketball programs. And while it may feel counterintuitive to dismiss a combined 15 national championships, conference expansion, right or wrong, has evolved into football and marketplace.

    UConn football — as an independent and with a recent 10-50 record since 2016 — adds nothing. And the ACC has an existing media footprint in New England. So while Mora may yearn for the ACC, the sentiment is hardly reciprocal.

    “Conferences are forced now to think this way,” a former Division I athletic director was saying the other day. “By adding this marketplace, there’s more money in the TV/media deal divided by the number of schools who revenue share. The Los Angeles market just did that for the Big Ten.”

    Indeed. The Big Ten didn’t pursue the Pac 12’s two most successful football programs (USC and Oregon). It pursued the totality of the Pac 12’s largest media market, now giving the league a footprint in the three biggest media markets in the country: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

    UConn’s potential addition to the ACC wouldn’t give the league more media money because it does not add a coveted media market. The ACC is already in New England. Delusional UConn fans might argue the school would deliver New York. Hence the word “delusional.” If UConn truly delivered New York, it would have become a Power 5 school long ago.

    Surely, though, the burgeoning cesspool of college athletics lends itself to presumption and speculation. To wit: Wouldn’t there be a spot for UConn in the ACC if Clemson, Florida State and Miami leave for the Southeastern Conference?

    One problem: The SEC appears to be done expanding for the same reason the ACC doesn’t want UConn. There is no additional marketplace. The football programs at Clemson, Florida State and Miami might have similar cachet to UConn basketball. But the SEC has already saturated the southeastern portion of the country where Clemson, Florida State and Miami reside.

    “There's no sense of urgency, no sense of panic,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told reporters Monday at SEC media days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “We're not just shooting for a number of affiliations that make us better.”

    Saturday Down South, a digital media company covering the SEC, recently reported that in 2002, the SEC distributed $95.7 million in media rights revenue to its 12 schools ($7.97 million per). In 2022, that number swelled to $777.8 million for 14 schools ($55.5 million per).

    Translation: Clemson, Florida State and Miami might crave the same SEC invitation UConn might want from the ACC. But unless their invites can robustly add to the $778.8 million, the SEC doesn’t want them. Or need them.

    No discussion about expansion is complete without Notre Dame, whose media deal with NBC ($15 million annually) expires in 2025. Industry speculation has Notre Dame’s new media contract at well beyond $15 million, given the competition for the brand expected between NBC, CBS and streaming services. Dennis Dodd of CBS reported Monday that Notre Dame may seek as much as $75 million per year.

    Is Notre Dame likely to share its money with conference brethren? Cue what Geno Auriemma once said: “Notre Dame is like Robin Hood. They take from the rich and give to Notre Dame.”

    I get that UConn fans aren’t going to like this. But agenda cannot overshadow the critical eye. UConn just doesn’t have what the ACC needs.

    I’d also add that UConn would have to pay the Big East a $30 million exit fee. Nobody would argue the ACC is a better spot. But an athletic department hemorrhaging money — and not long removed from giving Bob Diaco and Kevin Ollie a combined $16 million — invites the perceptual nightmare of trying to figure out how to find $30 million more.

    UConn fans should also note that athletic director David Benedict has encountered several combative exchanges with Faculty Senate members in recent years over budget issues.

    Per the minutes of the November, 2020, Senate meeting, Senator Thomas Long said “many Senators have been critical of the university’s subsidy of athletics considering their continuous deficit.” Senator Jeff McCutcheon said “there’s a difference between us (the academic side) and athletics, namely that we perform, and they do not.”

    “Senate meetings got pretty contentious, especially when budget cuts and pay freezes were being implemented and the athletic department seemed to be immune to them,” one Senator wrote in an email to The Day. “In fact, while UConn was suffering cuts, the athletic department’s budget expanded, especially in the early 2010s. As you might imagine, faculty and staff were unhappy about that.”

    Clearly, it’s not all lollipops and rainbows at State U. There is an athletic budget deficit and football has zero cachet. And while expansion has taught us by now to never say never, UConn doesn’t have much appeal to the ACC.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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