Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who helped bring the Connecticut program back into the conference fold, had some bright-side advice for the other ten coaches in the league as they prepare for UConn to re-enter the fray starting with the 2020-21 season.
“We believe people have to lose eventually!” Ackerman joked brightly, with the smile of someone who doesn’t have to figure out how to beat Geno Auriemma’s team, well, ever.
Instead, she has the advantage of welcoming a program that DePaul coach Doug Bruno said was an all-time great program. He’d certainly know, with his Blue Demons regularly scheduling UConn on both teams’ non-conference slates during the period prior to the Connecticut-Big East restoration.
It says plenty about UConn’s stature that a year before arrival, the Huskies were so much a topic of conversation. Their actual conference in 2019-20, the American Athletic Conference, doesn’t have Media Day until next week, where coaches can describe their plans for one last season to try and hang a conference loss on UConn, something that happened plenty in the Big East but hasn’t happened once in the AAC.
“We’re excited for them coming and our players are excited they’re coming,” Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella explained of the upcoming non-conference matchup with UConn. In typical Huskies fashion, Auriemma agreed to a home-and-home, so Seton Hall gets to enjoy the advantages of having the UConn team come to Walsh Gym on December 5.
“It’s a showcase for Seton Hall, one of the best programs in the country coming into our gym, and then joining our league,” Bozzella said. “Geno’s been a great person, a great mentor to me.”
For Bruno, a big fish like UConn could displace his DePaul program, which has frequently been atop the Big East during this period. That doesn’t seem to bother him a bit, as Bruno exchoed the view, welcoming UConn in terms of what it means for everyone.
“To have a program of that stature join the Big East is just great for the Big East. It’s going to make it hard for us, but as Val said, it’s going to make it better for us big-picture.”
That big picture includes a significant television presence on Fox Sports 1 and CBS Sports Network, visibility that is still at a premium for many women’s basketball conferences. Adding UConn to that mix, especially if the Huskies can maintain their presence on SNY, changes the calculations for the conference.
In a football world everywhere else, the Big East is betting on basketball. And UConn, though there’s clearly reason for optimism and plenty of history on the men’s side, is a women’s basketball power first and foremost. It’s a fascinating bit of zigging as the rest of college sports zags.
Ackerman reiterated her joke in a one-on-one interview later Thursday afternoon, though she, too, has seen the upcoming 2020 class UConn welcomes next season. You can go ahead and pencil Paige Bueckers in as the Freshman of the Year in the Big East in 2020-21. I mentioned that to her — this isn’t just UConn, it’s Bueckers-era UConn.
“Yeah, that’s a whole other story,” Ackerman agreed. She was smiling, though. She doesn’t have to gameplan for Bueckers. She just has to spotlight her.