Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Official (Really): No UConn in This Year's Big East Tournament

Mike Aresco had some good news and some bad news for the hometown crowd gathered at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on Monday morning.

The Big East commissioner told the several hundred local businessmen and women gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell that UConn is “very committed” to the Big East, and promised that the conference will “continue on and be a greater conference than it was.”

But he told a small group of reporters afterwards that the UConn men’s basketball team’s flickering hopes to be included in this year’s Big East tournament have been extinguished.

“That’s over for this year. They won’t be in this year’s tournament,” Aresco said. “But we’ll welcome them back the following year, and we’ll be delighted to have them back.”

UConn is barred from any postseason tournament this season due to recent low Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. However, school officials have reportedly been lobbying the league’s presidents to at least allow the team to play in the annual conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. The school feels, among other things, that the APR system punishes current players for past players’ academic shortcomings.

“Susan (Herbst, UConn’s president), wasn’t there when all this happened,” he said. “They’ve corrected everything. They’ve got a terrific APR now, they’re doing much better. This is just one of those things. It happened, and it’s something they’re going to have to get through.”

It was a homecoming of sorts for Aresco, the Middletown native and Xavier High graduate. Larry McHugh, the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce president and chairman of UConn’s board of trustees, was Aresco’s football coach at Xavier. In fact, this year’s Xavier football team was honored at the breakfast for winning its third straight Class LL state title.

No doubt, it was good to be among friends and familiar faces for Aresco, who has been besieged by conference realignment and high-profile defections from the Big East ever since he took over as commissioner in August.

“It’s been a lot more interesting than I thought it would be, a lot more challenges, a lot more things to navigate, so it’s been a little more difficult,” Aresco noted. “You basically take it a day a time, with every challenge that will come.”

Aresco told the audience that, while UConn is “very committed” to the Big East, he can’t predict what the school will ultimately do when it comes to realignment.

“You never know what’s going to happen, none of us can predict,” he said. “That’s one thing I won’t do. But as conferences consolidate, get bigger, I think they re-think what they’re doing. I think there will be a period of calm. That doesn’t mean it’s over. UConn has been very committed to this model. It’s a good model.”

Aresco said that the Big East will eventually add a 12th football-playing member (it will have 10 next year and 11 when Navy joins in 2015). The conference is “getting closer” to a TV deal that could involve multiple network, though he didn’t know when that deal would be finalized.

He noted that there is no animosity towards the so-called “Catholic 7” for breaking away from the conference and looking out for themselves. Nor is there animosity towards Louisville or other schools for departing for other conferences.

“Conference realignment is a fact of life,” Aresco said, “but you have to play the cards you’re dealt.”
Aresco did point out, however, that the conference would be looking to keep the Big East name.

“There’s brand equity in that,” he noted.

He also said that the Big East-SEC Invitational basketball tournament will no longer be continued.

Elsewhere:  I caught up with former UConn star Jim Abromaitis at the breakfast. He said his son Tim, the former Notre Dame standout, is playing professionally for a team called Asvel in Lyon, France, and doing very well. 

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