UConn Board of Trustees votes to leave AAC and join Big East
Storrs — The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, as expected, voted Wednesday to accept an invitation to return its athletic programs to the Big East Conference.
The unanimous vote of approval came just two days after Big East administrators met and reached out to ask UConn to become its 11th member.
Board member Rebecca Lobo, the former women's basketball All-American, participated via conference call, but Gov. Ned Lamont was unable to attend due to another commitment.
Approximately 40 people were in attendance, including athletic director David Benedict and basketball coaches Geno Auriemma and Dan Hurley. Auriemma and Hurley arrived after the board returned from its executive session shortly before 1 p.m.
Media members attending Wednesday's meeting were not permitted to ask questions. The board is deferring to the Big East, which will hold a formal press conference to announce the move at noon on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Benedict, Auriemma, Hurley and school president Susan Herbst will be on hand.
In his brief remarks before the vote, board interim chairman Thomas Ritter said they appreciate the AAC but believes the move is what's best for the future of the athletic program.
"Somewhere Dave Gavitt and John Toner are misty-eyed and exchanging high-fives right now," said Ritter, referring to the Big East's founder and former UConn athletic director, respectively.
Retired Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh, who was in attendance on Wednesday, is in favor of the change.
"It was a decision they had to make," McHugh said. "The base wanted it. Hopefully we'll just continue to give the support they need for football. The board made the right decision."
UConn now must negotiate an exit fee with the American, which is expected to be in the $10 million range. The agreement with the Big East states UConn will pay a $3.5 million entrance fee.
The contract with the Big East also states that UConn will not be eligible to receive certain financial awards that were earned by the other conference members prior to the Huskies joining. UConn would also owe a higher withdrawal fee if it departs, with the amount being $30 million for the first six years as a member, $15 million years seven through nine and $10 million starting in the 10th year.
The Huskies will play one more season in the AAC before joining the Big East during the 2020-21 academic year in all sports except football and men's and women's hockey.
Both hockey programs are members of Hockey East, but the future of the football program is in limbo and wasn't immediately addressed during Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting.
Benedict previously said the school is committed to remaining in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but whether the Huskies elect to become an independent in 2020 or attempt to become a football-only member of another conference has yet to be determined.
According to the Big East contract, UConn will not be allowed to pursue membership for football in any Power Five conference, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference or Pacific-12.
"Make no mistake that we are still committed to our football program," Ritter said.
Tom McDougall, a football season ticket holder from West Hartford and 2015 UConn graduate, attended the meeting. He spoke to the board during public comment time, then said during a break, "Not everybody in Connecticut wants this. This is not a unified thing."
He added, "I firmly believe the American Athletic Conference is the only way we're going to get out of this mess. They haven't revealed a full plan yet. Maybe they have something genius planned, but I don't know what that plan is. Going independent is going to be a mistake. We're going to turn into UMass."
UConn was an original member of Big East when it formed in 1979. Conference realignment forced the Huskies to switch to the AAC in 2013.
Current Big East members include Providence, Georgetown, DePaul, Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, Creighton, Butler and Xavier.
STATEMENT FROM FOOTBALL COACH RANDY EDSALL
Members of the Media,
Since Saturday, June 22nd I've been contacted by many members of the media to give my thoughts on the rumor that UConn was going to the Big East Conference in all sports except football. I didn't want to say anything until we knew that the rumor was actually going to become official. Now that it has happened here are my thoughts.
In life, leaders have to make decisions that they think is in the best interest of their company, organization, business and this situation, The University of Connecticut Athletic Department. The Board of Trustees, University Leadership and the Athletic Director made the decision that this was in the best interest of our 22 intercollegiate teams, hundreds of student athletes, fans and our future.
With the decision, it leaves our football program in transition at this point in time, but the Board of Trustees, University Leadership and Athletic Director will make the decision that they feel is best for our Football program moving forward.
As I told my TEAM (Trust, Enthusiasm, Accountability, Mental Toughness) on Sunday afternoon, we have a schedule for 2019 and that is what we have been preparing for since January and they have been doing a great job of staying focused and not allowing any distractions to get in the way of our preparation and training. So this situation will not be a distraction to this TEAM.
All my focus and work has been on getting this program and facilities back to where we all want it regardless of WHERE WE PLAY OR WHO WE PLAY, so I'm leaving the decision up to the Board of Trustees, University Leadership and Athletic Director to find the best situation for our Football Program.
Myself, my staff and my players will not address this situation in the future as our focus is all on the 2019 season which is right around the corner. So with that being said, we've moved on to Wagner College.