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Pressure is on Benedict to provide UConn football the tools to succeed

And so the University of Connecticut took a major step toward become a de facto basketball-only school late last week, forking over a $17 million exit fee to leave the American Athletic Conference, thus leaving the football program on purgatory's welcome mat.

Cash starved, are you State U? Doesn't seem right that the UConn athletic department, which covered less than half of the department's expenses during the 2018 fiscal year according to the school's annual NCAA financial statement, can summon $17 million from somewhere all to celebrate basketball and benignly neglect football.

Ah, but silver linings always exist, even if they're a bit esoteric sometimes. So, we humbly suggest this: At least Randy Edsall's road to perdition comes pressure free. Not like he should be expected to win games anymore, unless the folks at UConn channel their inner John, Paul, George and Ringo — so Edsall can get by with a little help from his friends.

And Edsall will need help. Specifically, from athletic director David Benedict. If UConn is to remain mildly competitive — let alone successful — Benedict better figure out a way to get UConn's games on television and find some bowl tie-in.

Not so easy for a school playing an independent schedule in an empty stadium and already from a dispassionate part of the country's college football base.

Edsall can't win here until there's at least a nominal television deal and bowl tie-in for the Huskies. Because who's he going to recruit if nobody sees UConn play? And how can he pitch the idea that you might finish 7-5 here (and possibly better), yet not have a guaranteed a bowl game?

And this — yes, this — is why Edsall gets to walk between the raindrops now. Pressure to win? Win with what? No conference tie-in, no bowl tie-in and no revenue stream? Randy Edsall is a really good coach. But the only person who could win under those parameters is Jesus. Hey, he turned water into wine. Maybe he could turn a 2-star kid from Wethersfield into a 5-star stud from Plano, Texas.

You want pressure? The pressure is on Mr. Benedict to figure out an acceptable schedule, television and bowl mechanism that at least hints the university still gives a continental damn about football.

You want pressure? The pressure is on men's basketball coach Dan Hurley, in whose hands the fortunes of the athletic department rest. I've seen all the blubbering I can stand about the rhapsody and romance of going back to the Big East. So now all Hurley must do is beat Nova, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Xavier regularly, hang around the hallowed Big East Tournament at the Garden for more than a day and win the national championship.

Hurley has the university's full support and attention. Now what will he do with it? He better not be Kevin Ollie, redux. Remember: Ollie had a good Year One here, too. We all loved him. Didn't turn out so hot though.

Meanwhile, all of us who happen to like Edsall and what he stands for get to sit back and watch everyone around him scramble to turn chicken spit into chicken salad, all while posturing about how important football really is. Yeah. Independent football schools from the northeast have decades of history chronicling their success.

Not that I ever thought the AAC was the answer either. But at least Central Florida created some buzz the last few years. At least there was some revenue, TV and bowl tie-ins. Now? Kaput. All of it.

So, the floor is yours, Mr. Benedict. Go get your football coach what he needs to compete. We all know that football is more important than a lung to you and all the donors. You've all said so. Now try backing it up.

Good luck to Dan Hurley, too. The University of Connecticut is back to being a basketball-only school. Madison Square Garden, here we come.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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