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Sports Authority

Klaus: UConn should join the ACC

| Friday, January 20, 2017

This past Saturday, the UConn women’s basketball team extended its win streak to an NCAA-record 91 games with a predictable 40-point road beatdown of SMU. In doing so, the Huskies topped their own preexisting record of 90 wins that was less than six years old.

Last year, I argued before the NCAA tournament in favor of the somehow not universally held belief that the ending of UConn’s supremacy in women’s college basketball would be positive for the sport. Of course, the Huskies went on to easily win their fourth straight title and have continued their incessant dominance with a 17-0 start this season.

Except this year was supposed to be different. As the season began in November, UConn was losing three accomplished starters and AP voters had the audacity to vote the Huskies No. 3 in their preseason poll, suggesting to the public that the Huskies’ peers finally an opportunity to overtake them. In its first game, UConn made these assertions tenable, as the Huskies were uncharacteristically taken down to the wire by Florida State in a close 78-76 victory. Other nonconference games against ranked opponents such as Baylor, Notre Dame and Maryland challenged the Huskies, but once the calendar turned to 2017 and UConn entered conference play in the barren American Athletic Conference (AAC), it has become readily foreseeable that UConn will likely enter the NCAA tournament undefeated.

And therein lies an egregious problem: There is no reason that UConn should be playing in the AAC, a conference that has only one other ranked team, No. 23 USF, who the Huskies bested by 65 points just last week to tie their previous record win streak of 90. As I suggested last March, the parity problem in women’s college basketball isn’t just specific to the UConn teams of the past half-decade; the fact that three teams have accounted for 18 of the past 23 championships (including a trio of three-peats) with obscene average margins of victory in postseason games has limited the sport’s reach for the last few decades. These numbers certainly suggest that a permanent solution will require development of viable competing programs — an ongoing process with a timeline that is incredibly difficult to forecast.

However, this does not mean that a solution to making games more competitive for the current juggernaut shouldn’t be considered in the meantime. A worthwhile and logical resolution would be to remove UConn from the AAC to allow the Huskies to join a more competitive conference like the ACC for women’s basketball or become independents and continue to schedule difficult opponents from other top conferences throughout the entire regular season, like it has already done in nonconference play this year.

While there are certainly monetary and contractual obligations that would hamper the possibility of a move ever becoming a reality, it is undeniably rational from a basketball sense. Even dominant basketball teams are faced with a potential losses when they are faced with a tough conference slate, which often includes weeks with back-to-back games against ranked opponents or in hostile road environments. In the AAC, the Huskies are never faced with these challenges, a large reason why they are 59-0 in conference play since entering the league four years ago. With 11 teams currently — a tell-tale reminder that the league was first and foremost established for monetary gains in other sports — the AAC would not only become more competitive by losing UConn, but also simply have a more sensible number of teams.

To college basketball fans everywhere, UConn’s record 91st consecutive victory should have amazed. Instead, the feat remained hollow and largely a non-story for a team that has been a victim of its own success in a sport characterized by imbalance over the last few decades. While it may take several more years for women’s college basketball to reach a more appealing state of parity, steps should be taken as soon as possible to get the incredible Huskies out of the comparatively feeble AAC.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • jwawker

    Sorry Mr. Klaus. What would be the motivation of UConn to do what you suggest? If you want UConn women ‘s basketball in the ACC the whole package of UConn football and olympic sports teams has to come with it. All or none.

  • John Hidell

    Take a look at Notre Dame’s record in the ACC. They went undefeated in their first 2 years, and have lost one game in each of the last two. In their first season in the ACC their average margin of victory was 30+ pts. None of the P5 conferences have the depth of quality teams needed to avoid one or at most 2 teams to dominate.

  • Butch Meisner

    Despite playing all of the top teams in the ACC (at least the ones who are not chicken to schedule them) during their OOC schedule, UConn has not lost to an ACC team in nearly 4 years. Sure…the scores would likely be closer than they are against AAC competition (with UConn winning by 20 instead of 40) but the results would be the same.

    If UConn had joined the ACC instead of the AAC at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, they would be just as undefeated over that span in ACC league play as they have been in the AAC. I mean c’mon….the Huskies have only lost a grand total of 1 single game, regardless of league play or the toughest OOC schedule in WCBB, since the old Big East disintegrated. The only team to beat them over the past 4 seasons, including the current partial one, plays in the PAC 12.

  • roeyw124

    UConn is clearly the biggest loser of the conference realignment that occurred since 2004. Obviously rejoining a Power 5 conference would be great for UConn and would benefit football and men’s basketball the most, which ultimately is vital for the health of UConn athletics and the school in general.
    However, yes, women’s basketball would benefit too. Geno will retire eventually. While they may draw the top recruits for a bit, lack of competition and the resulting low exposure on national tv that results from being in the AAC will hurt the women’s team too.

  • Woof

    Your article gives the impression that joining the ACC is UCONN’s decision to make. But the reality is that the ACC makes the call. There might be a chance that the ACC would invite UCONN if ND asked to join the football conference since they would need a 16th team to even out the divisions. But since the ACC already has East Coast teams, there’s a real question over whether UCONN would really add any value given that it has no real football tradition or following.