STORRS, Conn. – The latest round of conference musical chairs has left Connecticut once again looking for a seat.
The Big Ten's recruitment of Rutgers from the Big East and Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference has led to renewed speculation the Huskies might jump to the ACC to replace the Terrapins.
Connecticut, like Rutgers, has been looking for a landing spot since Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their departures from the Big East last year. UConn president Susan Herbst has long hinted that an invitation to join that ACC is something the school would welcome. She and athletic director Warde Manuel have said that while they are committed to working with the Big East, they will do what is in the best interests of the university.
But Manuel told reporters Monday that it was too soon to comment on the latest moves, and neither he nor Herbst responded Tuesday to repeated messages seeking comment. Manuel is in the Virgin Islands this week, where the men's basketball team just competed in the Paradise Jam, and the women will begin to play the same tournament on Thursday.
Football coach Paul Pasqualoni, who also coached at Syracuse, said he has become resigned to the idea that change in life is inevitable. He was asked Tuesday if he would welcome a move that would renew regional rivalries with Syracuse and Boston College.
"I want what's best for the University of Connecticut and the state of Connecticut," he said. "I want the same thing that everybody else in Connecticut wants, really. I think the people in the state of Connecticut, they can rest assured that the people in charge will do what's best."
There have been stumbling blocks to any possible UConn move to the ACC in the past. Gene DeFilippo, Boston College's former athletic director, last year acknowledged that he blocked a planned invitation for the Huskies.
"We didn't want them in," DeFilippo told the Boston Globe last October. "It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team."
That type of animosity is nothing new between the schools. The state of Connecticut, in fact, led a 2003 lawsuit over the departure of Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC from the Big East.
But DeFilippo has been replaced at Boston College by Brad Bates, a man Manuel says is a close and longtime friend. Both played football at Michigan and were athletic directors in the Mid-American Conference before taking their respective jobs in the last year. Even before Bates was hired, Boston College this summer welcomed UConn as the newest member of the region's premier hockey conference, Hockey East.
But that doesn't mean UConn is a no-brainer to join BC in the ACC. Louisville — and to a lesser extent South Florida — have also been mentioned as potential targets for the league, and there has been no indication that the conference will act quickly to replace Maryland.
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma put it this way to reporters in Texas on Sunday, after the Huskies beat Texas A&M.
"You can desire to get invited to a lot of parties in Connecticut, but if you don't get an invite, you ain't going," he said. "I think everybody knows right now that every school in the country, every league in the country — you go to meetings, you look each other in the eye, you tell each other the truth and you go on from there with the understanding that it could change tomorrow."
As for the student-athletes, a lot of this won't affect them long term. They're going to play where they are told to play. But senior tight end Ryan Griffin is into it, regardless, and said they are watching the shuffle intently. They are concerned about the future of the program they have helped build. They don't want to be left behind in a fading Big East.
"With all this movement, it's kind of up in the air right now, with the conferences and stuff," he said. "Hopefully I can come back here as an alumni and enjoy some football games — Big 10, ACC, the Big East in San Diego, who knows."