What is the University of Connecticut, who are we and what value do we bring?
These are some of the many questions college presidents, school administrators, state residents, current students and rival fans are currently asking. After the events that transpired over this past weekend, with the Big 12 being shut out of the college football playoff, realignment whispers, once again, began to buzz. The answers to these questions are paramount to understanding what future direction UConn will be taking and what opportunities will be allotted.
Yes, we are home to the back-to-back women’s basketball, back-to-back field hockey and defending men’s basketball National Champions. We’ll dive into sports, Husky Nation and success at the professional level a little later on, but UConn is so much more than just athletics and the university continues to show this in many ways.
THE ACADEMIC EXPANSION
Yesterday, December 11, 2014, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality designated UConn as an approved Evidence-Based Practice Center, joining a group of just eleven prestigious schools that includes John’s Hopkins, Vanderbilt and Brown. The designation gives UConn the following per FoxCT:
“Evidence-based Practice Centers were established in 1997 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to promote evidence-based decision making by payers, doctors, and patients. They review all the studies that have been conducted on a safety and effectiveness of a certain drug, device, surgical procedure, or intervention, determine the balance of benefits to harm, and where possible compare it to the other therapies that can be used. They produce comprehensive reports that determine the benefits and harms, the strength of the evidence, and how applicable the evidence is to patients who have the disease. They then work with the Agency for Healthcare research and Quality to create easier to understand guides for payers, clinicians, and patients and work with major medical and patient advocacy organizations to get the word out about their findings.”
This designation is another example of the school’s efforts to make Storrs one of the highest centers of learning in the nation.
The Connecticut state legislature is also investing in UConn, as part of Next Generation Connecticut, on a large scale. How large? $1.5 billion large. These funds will enable for the building of new scientific laboratories, the purchasing of advanced equipment, the construction of new classrooms, and additional housing. The state also invested $137 million in operating funds to hire hundreds of new faculty, and to expand the student body in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), by 3,300 additional students over the next ten years.
UConn president Susan Herbst called the funding transformational, when it was announced in June of 2013.
“In an era of lagging state support for public higher education throughout the nation, Connecticut is going in the opposite direction by making extraordinary investments in its research university,” Herbst said. “It is incredibly bold, far-sighted, and virtually unheard of in the current climate and will make UConn one of the most research-productive universities in the world.”
There is no question the above investments and designation will make UConn an even more premier institution, which is already ranked the 19th best public university by the U.S. News & World Report, who released their 2014 rankings in September.
One member of social media, who just happens to reside in Big Ten territory (Minnesota), put it this way:
“UConn’s designation of their Evidence-Based Practice Center is something which will be glossed over by 99% of those interested in the politics of conference realignment and expansion. However, it should be paid attention to. A couple of months ago, I talked about the huge $1.5B financial backing the state of Connecticut was giving to it’s flagship university in terms of expanding it’s research portfolio. What makes the Big Ten presidents stand up and take notice? Not college basketball championships, football or hockey. It’s what a university can do to expand and grow the economic engine of the Big Ten universities. RESEARCH.
The championships are important to the athletic directors and fanbases and it does have some direct influence on a universities’ budget and economy. The Big Ten Presidents’ scoreboard is research dollars. Delany will not put forward a school to the presidents unless the scorebaord looks good. UConn just lit up the scoreboard today. I’m not predicting or saying UConn is going to the Big Ten, but this is a significant advantage.
I have also have talked about how Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is still east, creating and building relationships. Madison Square Garden will be holding the Big Ten Tournament and hosting Big Ten hockey beginning in 2018 and beyond. Delany is spreading the brand of the Big Ten east. Remember when Delany said Penn State was a bridge to the inclusion of Rutgers and Maryland? Well, Maryland is one of the only eleven schools that had the Evidence-Based Practice Center. And now, so does UConn, as well.“
TELEVISION MARKETS & FAN SUPPORT
Location, location, location. UConn’s proximity to New York City is a major advantage. Why? Any addition to a new conference must be met with value, as a league’s television contract will be split by additional teams. New teams entering may mean a new television deal down the road, so the Big Ten or Big 12 would be smart to add schools that bring value. Enter UConn.
UConn currently has a multi-year television contract in place with SNY to broadcast football, men’s baseketball and women’s basketball throughout the tri-state area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, as well as parts of Pennsylvania. This partnership allows the top television market in the nation to see UConn on a regular basis, which helps not only create fans, but also assists with recruiting. The potential market reach of a conference into this area is a very large opportunity. Connecticut alone brings in the 30th ranked television market, along with a large penetration into New York City, the highest. This would be invaluable, especially for a conference that does not have a presence there, like the Big 12. While the Big Ten already expanded into New York City by adding Rutgers, UConn would solidify the Big Ten’s footprint, as Syracuse, who claims to be NYC’s team, despite being located five hours away, is a member of the rival ACC.
UConn’s expansion into the city, which has been a home for the Huskies over the years, developed as a member of the Big East. With UConn’s presence for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 for the 2014 NCAA Tournament at MSG, fans from Connecticut took over the world’s most famous arena, giving the building the nickname of ‘Storrs South’ by the CBS broadcast team of Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. Not only did the Huskies and their fans pack the building for the Elite 8 game against Big Ten opponent Michigan State, with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in attendance, the presence of UConn fans and the Huskies being in the building, pushed the secondary market for tickets sales to higher rates than those being sold for the Final Four or National Championship game. In other words, a game involving UConn, created an unbelievably high demand in the city.
This was certainly nothing new. UConn basketball has dominated MSG over the years, winning seven Big East tournament titles there, the most championships in the history of the league. In total, the men’s program alone has played one-hundred and eleven (111) games at the Garden, winning sixty-one (61) of those contests. As was mentioned above, the Big Ten is looking to move their conference tournament to the Garden for 2018. With the amount of Big Ten alumni in the NYC area, it should be a successful event, but if they want to raise it to another level and make the Big Ten’s presence in the City paramount, adding UConn would make this a surefire successful annual celebration of the best basketball in the nation, especially with over 30,000 UConn alumni residing in the City.
Travel is also a plus for the Huskies, who have built themselves as a travelling fan base throughout the 90′s with the men’s and women’s basketball programs. In 2004, something new happened, UConn football made their first bowl appearance at the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, MI. More than seven thousand tickets were sold through the university that year, with thousands more purchased on the secondary market, which was talked about by the New York Times.
UConn’s strong showing is likely to make the Huskies an appealing choice for other bowls. The university’s history of traveling well for basketball events, like the men’s and women’s Final Fours, appears to have extended to football.
“What they did will speak volumes to the bowl community,” said Ken Hoffman, the executive director of the Motor City Bowl. “They did a tremendous job.”
The Huskies took home their first bowl win and have built travel into their holiday plans ever since, with trips to Charlotte, Toronto, Birmingham and Phoenix over the years.
Nothing more needs to be said than what you just watched. Four titles in fifteen years for the men, nine titles for the women, the most in the history of the sport. In total, UConn has taken home twenty National Championships over the years.
UConn is coming off of and is still in the midst of an unheard of streak in college sports. With five national championships over the last two calendar years, UConn is one of the most competitive athletic departments in the nation. Their success does not just reside with men’s and women’s basketball. Field hockey has two national championships in the last two years, men’s and women’s soccer compete on a national scale and are regularly nationally ranked and baseball has consistently been in the NCAA tournament in recent years.
Now, men’s hockey has joined the women’s hockey program in the prestigious Hockey East, which is widely known as the SEC of college hockey. There is also another reputable conference out there that just so happens to be one of the conferences who may be looking to expand, the Big Ten. UConn hockey has come in and been competitive, defeating national power Boston College in their first ever home hockey game in the league. The Huskies also currently lead the entire league in attendance (6,188) in their first year in Hockey East competition, which is good for the 6th highest average attendance in the country.
As mentioned, the men have the most championships of any Division 1 men’s basketball program over the last fifteen. The legends that have walked through the doors at Gampel, the hall-of-famers like Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, the future hall-of-famers like Ray Allen, nothing more needs to be said about the basketball programs. Connecticut truly is the basketball capital of the world and it’s not only because of the championships. Programs should be judged by the legacy that is left and the opportunity that is there to play at the next level, which the Huskies currently have ten (10) in the NBA.
Not to be left behind is the UConn football program, who are a lot more successful than some may have you believe. Five bowl games from 2004 through 2011. Two Big East conference championships. One BCS bowl appearance, the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against the Big 12′s Oklahoma Sooners. A win in South Bend against Notre Dame. Defeating the SEC’s South Carolina Gamecocks in dominating fashion in the PapaJohn’s Bowl. Back-to-back wins over the Big 12′s Baylor Bears, who were led at the time by quarterback and future Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Those are just some of the wins and accomplishments.
And let’s not forget players moving on to play in the NFL. Currently, there are seventeen former Huskies on NFL rosters. Compare that to the Big 12 and UConn would have the fourth most players in the league from the conference.
Ranking Big 12 School’s by NFL Players:
Texas (33) - Oklahoma (30) - Oklahoma St (18) - UConn (17) - West Virginia (16) - Kansas State (13) - TCU (12) - Baylor (9) - Texas Tech (8) - Kansas (7) - Iowa State (5)
The fact of the matter is, one bad coaching hire, does not make a football program. At one point, the Huskies were the fastest growing Division 1 football program in the nation, before Randy Edsall left for Maryland after the Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2011. First-year head coach Bob Diaco came in and transformed the entire culture within the locker room in his initial season. Despite the record, the Huskies future is bright and their tradition is ready to be rebuilt.
In the end, a case doesn’t really need to be made, that would infer that some sort of convincing would need to occur. Rather, UConn just needs to be presented.
As Diaco put it when he was first introduced, “you don’t need to sell UConn. UConn sells itself.”by