In Storrs, Waiting By The Phone For The ACC

No Doubting That UConn Would Jump At The Chance

STORRS

The sun rose high over eastern Connecticut on Sunday. Storrs had a different look to it. Storrs had a different feel to it.

It sort of looked like, yeah, it sort of felt like ACC country.

Yet as they stood together in the press box at Morrone Stadium during UConn's 1-0 victory over Northeastern in the second round of the NCAA men's soccer tournament, UConn president Susan Herbst and athletic director Warde Manuel would say the same thing.

As of 3 p.m. Sunday, the ACC hadn't called.

"Nothing," Herbst said when asked if there was anything new with the ACC.

That could change in a day or a week. The ACC is fastidious in its expansion process. Yet as Geno Auriemma pointed out in College Station after the UConn women crushed Texas A&M on their merry way back to No. 1 in the nation: If they don't invite you, you're not going to the party.

Would UConn say yes to the ACC? C'mon, if Maryland and Rutgers do indeed head to the Big Ten in the coming days — if not the coming hours — Herbst and Manuel would be run out of the state if they even thought about saying no. So let's not insult anybody's intelligence. "Yes" is the given.

UConn, to most every observer, appears to be the obvious choice to replace Maryland. Yet how often has the obvious been wrong in college athletics in recent years? It seems like risky business for UConn fans to count their blessings before John Swofford actually dials those sweet, first three numbers: 860 …

It's also not over until Maryland, which counts some dyed-in-the wool ACC lifers among its Board of Regents, tells the Big Ten "yes" after a Monday morning vote. It's crazy to think Maryland president Wallace Loh, a former provost at Iowa, would have gone totally broken arrow in dealing with the Big Ten, although some regents are said to be upset they weren't better informed. According to ESPN, Loh did get 100 percent support from Maryland super-booster Kevin Plank of Under Armour. That's big.

Unlike Rutgers, which could act as quickly as Tuesday, and probably would face a negotiated $20 million exit fee like West Virginia did, Maryland has to figure out a way to pay — or dodge — a $50 million ACC exit fee. If I were Loh, the first guy I would call is his football coach, Randy Edsall. He is an expert at escaping out the back window.

The Big Ten means massive prestige, and last year meant a massive $24.6 million in shared revenue for each school. Yet as the Big Ten Network grows, this stunning expansion move becomes less than stunning when you consider that stretching the conference to the East Coast means less about the so-so football prowess of two schools than the millions of new viewers gained. So when Maryland most likely says yes and Rutgers — which should change its name to the Lucky Knights of the Raritan — says yes in a heartbeat, the logic is Mr. Swofford would dial 860. Then again, logic and college athletics are not always blood brothers. So it's good to be excited, UConn fans. Just don't smoke your ACC tobacco before it's properly aged.

Do you think a school like Louisville is going to sit by idly? No way. This could get crazier than Northeastern soccer coach Brian Ainscough turned after his team's loss, when he seemed to be ready to fight everybody.

Sadly, the Big East could be the Conference USA by Friday. Yet this is no time for UConn fans to grow maudlin. Most of your memories have joined the ACC already. With the Big East scrapping to save itself from demise every other year, a move is necessary. And in recounting conversations from the past 72 hours, there's also evidence how quickly matters change.

On Friday, as we sat in his office, Manuel was saying he was pleased with the way Big East commissioner Mike Aresco had gained access to the big-money contract bowl bids. The highest finisher among the Big East, MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA and Sun Belt conferences will gain an automatic bid, and with Boise State committed to the Big East, there's a sense the conference would do well.

"If it wasn't for all Mike's work, we wouldn't have had this solution," Manuel said.

Was he worried at any point that the Big East would be out of the big-time bowl business?

"Yes," Manuel said. "We were on the outside looking in after being on the inside looking out [the Big East is losing its automatic qualifying status]."

Manuel went on to say he was happy with the east-west football alignment for the next two seasons, hopes the Big East sticks with it and Temple moves back to the east in 2015.

"Rutgers, Temple, the closeness to us, makes for better rivalries," Manuel said. "I like the balance."

Within 24 hours, that balance went haywire. Rutgers was looking at Ohio State, not UConn.

Many in the national media were selling how with Notre Dame moving to the ACC in everything but football and the new bowl alignments were proof positive that there was permanence to the conference structure. They were selling nonsense. The UConn hierarchy had heard rumors that matters could change after Notre Dame said hello to the ACC. But unless they're fibbing — I don't think they are — they had no idea matters with Maryland and Rutgers were so far along. I have a strong notion a lot of schools in the ACC didn't either.

Yes, the sun seems to be rising on a new day at Storrs.

Facing a rebuilding year with no NCAA Tournament eligibility, the men's team suddenly is in the Top 25 and there's a good chance Kevin Ollie will get a long-term contract before the end of the season. Manuel has wanted to make sure he has the right man before he goes to Herbst to OK a decision. For his part, yes, Manuel does realize his process could have a one-year effect on recruiting.

"Could be," Manuel said. "There are questions and there should be by kids trying to make a decision that will impact the next four years of theirs lives. And some don't want to wait for the late signing period."

Yet remember this, too. No matter if a coach has won national titles or if he is new, recruiting is dirty game. The other guy will always use the "may leave, may retire, too young, too old, too sick" card. That's an unfortunate fact of recruiting life.

After supposedly unbeatable Baylor fell to Stanford, Auriemma's team will be No. 1 Monday. Maybe this season isn't all about Brittney Griner after all. Maybe this is about the start of another 90-game unbeaten streak for UConn. Manuel said he has had conversations with Geno and his lawyer for a new five-year deal and, "I don't anticipate any problems."

The good news is "The BC Problem" seems to be healing. Manuel and new BC athletic director Brad Bates both played football at Michigan for Bo Schembechler. They're friends. BC and UConn will play in Hockey East [Manuel said he hopes coach Bruce Marshall, dealing with a personal issue, will return in two to three weeks]. Yes, we finally appear to have New England glasnost. North Carolina, Duke, some ACC heavyweights, are already said to have been supportive of UConn. Miami might need some convincing.

And Swofford? Here's a thought. Herbst and Manuel can do a duet and send the video of "Call Me Maybe" to ACC headquarters.

The answer will be yes.

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