Nostalgia is a funny thing.
Regardless of your age or station in life, there’s just something about the “good old days” that always make them seem better than the here and now. Nowhere is that more true than in the realm of sports.
Ask any oldtimer who they think is better and the answer will inevitably be Michael, not Lebron. Aaron rather than Bonds or Nicklaus over Tiger.
The ultimate Throwback Thursday moment, however, came — coincidentally enough — last Thursday when Connecticut announced that it was leaving the American Athletic Conference and returning to the Big East.
It was a move that was hailed by fans of the school and members of the national media, especially those old enough to remember the real Big East of the 1980s and 90s, as an opportunity for the Huskies to reestablish their brand and return to the national prominence they once enjoyed (in men’s basketball, at least).
That sounds like a plausible assumption, considering the downward trajectory UConn has been on for at least the last half decade.
The only problem is that it’s nothing more than romantic nostalgia.
If UConn was actually the valuable commodity those living in the past believe it to be, it would have been absorbed into the Atlantic Coast Conference along with Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College when the original Big East fell apart in 2013.
There’s a reason the Huskies got left behind by both the ACC and Big 12 during the great rush of college conference realignment.
And it’s not academics, as has been widely reported.
Rather, it’s because of its location in a media market lost in a no-man’s land between New York and Boston, a football program so insignificant that school officials have no problem hanging it out to dry by moving to a new conference that doesn’t have football, and most importantly because its men’s basketball program has fallen into disrepair since the retirement of legendary coach Jim Calhoun and the departure of the players he recruited.
Returning to a watered down Big East will at least reunite UConn with old rivals Villanova and Marquette. But it’s questionable as to how much or if it will have any impact on the Huskies’ ability to land top-rated recruits.
As for the AAC, the loss of UConn is hardly reason to panic.
Commissioner Mike Aresco has already issued a statement indicating that the league will not allow UConn to continue playing as a football-only member, meaning that the AAC will move forward — at least for the time being — as an 11-team conference.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The ACC has functioned just fine with an odd number of schools since admitting Notre Dame in all sports but football.
With Central Florida, South Florida, Houston and Memphis still in the fold in football, and nationally relevant men’s basketball programs Houston, Cincinnati, Wichita State, UCF and Temple still in place, the AAC’s cupboard is anything but bare without UConn.
Even in women’s basketball, where coach Gino Aureama’s Huskies are the gold standard of excellence, their departure can be given a positive spin in that it finally opens the door for other teams to seriously challenge for conference championships moving forward.
Eventually, as Aresco indicated in his statement, the AAC will move to find a replacement for UConn. When it does, the options are plentiful.
If it’s interested in bolstering its football lineup and giving current gridiron member Navy a natural partner, it can always turn to fellow service academy Army or Air Force.
If it’s looking to expand farther west, it can pay a call to Brigham Young or Boise State.
If strengthening basketball is the aim, it wouldn’t hurt to place a call to Virginia Commonwealth.
Georgia State has apparently expressed an interest in joining already.
Then, from a ECU-centric standpoint, there’s always Appalachian State or UNC-Charlotte.
Any one of those schools would be a welcome addition that would easily allow the AAC to retain its current position as the strongest of the non-Power 5 conferences. UConn simply isn’t that difficult to replace.
That’s not to disparage the Huskies, who have what they believe to be valid reasons for returning to the Big East. It’s just that while they’re looking backward trying to recreate their version of the good old days, the AAC — and ECU along with it — continues to move forward, setting the bar even higher in search of successes and stature yet to be achieved.