No more excuses at UConn: It's time to win
Now that the church bells have finally stopped echoing, all the yahoos have ceased yahooing, all the blubbering muted to randomly joyous sniffles — UConn is back home in the Big East, Huzzah! Huzzah! — we can talk truths.
We begin here: It is entirely UConn's fault if it fails to dominate the Big East again in men's basketball.
UConn has competitive advantages — some self-evident, others to be exercised — other Big East schools do not. As Golda Meir once said rather famously, "the time is now."
Advantage I: UConn has the highest undergraduate enrollment (more than 19,000) in the league. It's at least 10,000 more than eight other schools. That means UConn — how to put this delicately — has a greater ability than its brethren to extend its scope of prospective students, particularly those who can walk and make threes at the same time. Translation: Basketball players who can help the bottom line need every consideration to be admitted.
Advantage II: UConn is the lone public institution in an otherwise Catholic, private school league. I'll get crushed here for suggesting this, but then, as Tom Cruise said in Risky Business, "sometimes, you just gotta say what the (heck)."
I believe it's easier to gain admission to UConn, especially for athletes, than most of its new/old Big East brethren. I'm aware UConn has a higher perch in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings than all other league schools except Georgetown and Villanova. But if UConn has 19,133 undergraduate spots open and Providence, for example, has 4,132 (according to the latest numbers), what does common sense suggest?
It is for those reasons that admissions needs to give coach Dan Hurley what he needs to succeed. The guy can coach. More energy than United Illuminating. And this isn't to say Hurley and admissions aren't working well. My concern is that men's basketball gets what it needs — unlike the way admissions treated Randy Edsall the first time around — and keeps the program humming.
A successful men's basketball program has evolved into necessity. Read that word again: necessity. There are many examples of the school's financial woes, not the least of which are four extinct sports, after last week's purge. Football has to climb Everest wearing sandals. Men's basketball is the bus driver now. It needs butts in the seats, national television on speed dial and Sweet 16s and beyond as the new normal. That happens best when a really good coach is allowed to get really good players.
I worry. Admissions is the primary reason Edsall left here a decade ago. The two-minute drill version: During one weekly media session, Edsall (off the podium) talked about how he spent UConn's first bye week of the 2009 (his last) season talking to admissions. His message: More stringent admittance requirements were imperiling the program.
Edsall said, essentially, the university was beginning to require its prospective athletes to have higher grade-point averages and higher standardized test scores "than a few years ago," on top of a more rigorous "second review" process for athletes who don't meet the increased standards.
Later, Edsall said even players who earned their degrees in previous seasons probably wouldn't be admitted. He said that making a kid wait on UConn was recruiting suicide because they'd just go somewhere else — like primary competitors Louisville and West Virginia. Moreover, he wasn't sure other schools in the league were as discerning.
Edsall received no support whatsoever from Jeff Hathaway, his boss at the time. He believed Hathaway should have been there to support him in front of admissions and keep discussions heading toward compromise. He believed he'd earned that much, given how the football program was lauded frequently — and nationally — for academic achievement.
Think about what Edsall did: He left UConn when the Huskies were in a league that was still a part of the championship process, needing to beat West Virginia and Louisville (not exactly LSU and Alabama) every year. He left for Maryland, a mid-level ACC school at the time in a division with Clemson and Florida State, and whose path to the same championship level bowl games also included the ACC championship game against (very likely) Virginia Tech.
OK. I digress. The point here is that athletic success at UConn becomes a matter of practicality now. It's not that difficult. U.S. News recently examined the schools with the lowest acceptance rates. Among the leaders: Duke at nine percent. And somehow, Duke manages to excel at men's basketball. Sure, there are some Dookies out there intoxicated enough to think Duke admits only scholars to partake of the hardwood, upholding the school's academic tradition. Pause here for a laugh track. Duke wins at basketball because Duke wants to. Period. There's no reason UConn can't do the same.
Lest a few folks out there who aren't ready for the Times Sunday Crossword lapse into oversimplification, I reiterate: We're not suggesting zero admissions standards for basketball. Just relax them, if they aren't already. Until further notice. The opportunity is there in the Big East for UConn to go volcanic. It has the means and motive. There are no more excuses.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro