Monday, April 7, 2014

Should the Big Ten have added UConn instead of Rutgers or Maryland?

Rutgers and Maryland officially join the Big Ten this summer.

The Scarlet Knights and Terrapins have one purpose: raise the conference's television profile in lucrative East Coast markets.

Both schools bring middling football programs to a conference already filled with gridiron mediocrity. See, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa.

Rutgers also brings public relations nightmares. The school's athletic director wants News Jersey's largest newspaper to die. Julie Hermann is the same selective-memory administrator who denied any knowledge of warning an assistant volleyball coach from Tennessee about getting pregnant. The head coach at the time? Julie Hermann. Last November, Hermann flubbed a bullying incident at Rutgers involving a football player.

Maryland doesn't bring administrative baggage -- or glamorous football and basketball programs -- to the Big Ten. The school's football team has posted three below-.500 records in the last five years, the basketball program has made just one Sweet 16 appearance since winning a national in 2002.

While Rutgers and Maryland prepare to share Big Ten revenues, Connecticut won its fourth NCAA basketball title since 1999 by defeating Kentucky on April 7. The Huskies defeated the Wildcats two days after upending Florida.The Big Ten can use an SEC slayer, even if it's in the wrong sport.

UConn owns more national men's basketball titles than powers Louisville and Kansas, which have three each, and Eastern stalwarts Georgetown, Syracuse and Villanova combined. The Huskies, who endured a postseason ban because of academic issues, are as good as any basketball program in the last 15 years.

Conference expansion decisions aren't driven by basketball. Football pays bills and pads coffers.

Rutgers and Maryland's football programs are known entities. Neither school consistently fields top-25 teams.

UConn is a Division I football newbie. The school became a full-fledged Division I member in 2002. The Huskies have appeared in five bowl games, including the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. Coach Randy Edsall bolted UConn for, coincidentally, Maryland after the Fiesta Bowl. Edsall owns a 13-24 record in three seasons with the Terrapins.

UConn replaced Edsall with a has-been coach in Paul Pasqualoni, who lasted 2 1/2 seasons. Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco now coaches the Huskies. With the proper coaching and recruiting, UConn has top-25 potential.

Connecticut, unlike New Jersey and Maryland, doesn't have any major professional sports franchises. Storrs, Conn., is one of the few spots on the East Coast besides State College, Pa., and Syracuse, N.Y., where college sporting events are major draws. Being in the same state as ESPN's headquarters doesn't hurt the attention-grabbing possibilities, either.

The UConn men's and women's basketball teams play before capacity crowds. Play the right teams -- and win enough -- and the same fervor would extend to football.

Rutgers brings fervor, none of which stems from on-field triumphs, to the Big Ten. Maryland brings UnderArmour money. Snug apparel isn't likely to turn Maryland into a must-watch athletic department.

Everybody who cares about college sports watched UConn on April 7. The saw one of the last desirable pieces in the expansion puzzle capture another major title.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy

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