UConn faces challenges in wake of Big 12 decision
Storrs — The day after a failing to gain entrance into the wealthy Power Five kingdom, athletic director David Benedict painted an optimistic picture of UConn's future.
Benedict, who met with the media for about 30 minutes on Tuesday, firmly believes UConn can continue to thrive despite the challenges ahead. The Big 12 Conference announced Monday that it decided to forgo expansion.
"The nice thing about today is that we're in control of our own destiny," Benedict said. "We don't have anything that's holding us back from moving forward because we're not waiting for someone that we don't have any control over to make a decision that really is going to have an impact on our future.
"... I've never been more excited about our future than I am today and the process served myself and several other people involved very well from the standpoint that it forces you to do a deep dive into your operations and where you stand with respect to your peers.
"I've said this multiple times, we are a Power Five athletic program. ... Although our conference doesn't currently carry that tag, to me, I'm not going to allow someone else's perception define who we are, because the results speak for themselves. ... We're not going to allow others determine our future or dictate what we feel about our university."
UConn was one of seven American Athletic Conference schools, including Cincinnati, SMU, Tulane, Central Florida, South Florida and Houston, that went through the interview process with the Big 12 last month. Every program submitted a detailed package to support its candidacy.
Benedict said that he was surprised Big 12 presidents didn't even discuss potential candidates during Monday's meeting in Dallas.
Given the volatile state of college athletics, UConn will likely have another shot at finding a home in a Power Five conference ... just not in the near future.
There are other options that UConn could explore.
In its application to the Big 12, UConn stated that it would accept a football-only invitation and would pursue membership in its former conference home, the Big East, for its other sports.
When asked if UConn plans to make an effort to gain admittance to other conferences, Benedict said he was expecting that question.
"After what we've just seen coming out of this most recent process, it would be unfair to a lot of different people to even speculate or comment on that," Benedict said. "What I can you is that we're a proud member of the American Athletic Conference. We're going to do everything that we can to make ourselves as strong as we possibly can as well as our conference.
"And, right now, we're committed to our conference. We think it's a fantastic conference. We've been able to win national championships in it in multiple sports and it's an excellent college football conference."
Without the substantial windfall that comes with belonging to a Power Five conference, the Huskies are stuck trying to figure out ways to maintain their lofty status in the athletic world while dealing with some financial constraints.
The UConn athletic department operates with a $71 million budget. According to Benedict, that number is not far away from or equal to some Power Five schools.
But there is a significant gap in television money. The AAC television contract with ESPN is a six-year deal worth $126 million and ends in 2020 while the Big 12 signed a contract in 2012 that stretches 13 years and earns $2.6 billion.
Benedict plans to explore and maximize every revenue stream. He mentioned ticket sales, priority seating and fund-raising as areas that can be improved on.
UConn's mindset will remain the same.
"We're really trying to operate more like the group that's currently in the Power Five than the majority of schools not in Power Five," Benedict said. "That poses a challenge and we have to address our financial situation. We're committed to doing that.
"We have to be more self-sustaining as an athletic department. And we're going to look at every opportunity that we possibly can to do that."