ACC Expansion: Connecticut Disputes Big East Commissioner's "Solidarity" Claim

Cliff PotterCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2011

With hand raised, Jim Calhoun accepts this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Championship trophy. Calhoun apparently favors Connecticut joining the ACC.
With hand raised, Jim Calhoun accepts this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Championship trophy. Calhoun apparently favors Connecticut joining the ACC.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In big college sports, especially when conference politics are concerned, we can be certain of one thing. When talks of solidarity come from a conference under siege, do not trust the word of a conference commissioner speaking for all presidents and athletic directors in a conference.

This morning, we were greeted with statements from the Big 12 and Big East which said that the conferences intend to stay together. The Big 12 said it far more clearly through the words of the participants. 

The Big East said  through its Commissioner John Marianatto, who "emerged from that meeting to say that all the members had 'pledged to each other that they are committed to move forward together.'"

This just a day or two after the president of the University of Connecticut and the athletic director of Rutgers made it clear that something else is in play.

Two days ago, Susan Herbst noted the following when asked about Connecticut's commitment to the Big East:

"UConn is a proud charter member of the BIG EAST and we have taken a lead role in the league's success over the years," she said. "However, it is my responsibility as President that we stay in constant communication and be actively involved in discussions with our counterparts from around the country to ensure the successful long-term future of our university's athletic program."

Yesterday, Herbst said that Connecticut "will always do what is in the best interests for the University of Connecticut."

Will Connecticut versus Rutgers become an ACC game?
Will Connecticut versus Rutgers become an ACC game?Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

When asked about Rutgers' status, athletics director Tim Pernetti said that Rutgers is "going to be engaged in conversations with several parties to figure out what's best for Rutgers." Pernetti would not confirm or deny that the school has applied for ACC membership, saying Rutgers was "going to keep it in the family."

So, are we to believe that both Connecticut and Rutgers participated in the Big East meeting last night and confirmed that they were "committed to move forward together?"

Only if you believe in miracles.

It turns out that Marianatto's statement has been disputed by various University of Connecticut officials.

"Multiple officials at Connecticut say the school has not committed to staying in the Big East Conference and continues to look at other conference options."

The officials were very specific as to both Connecticut and Rutgers. 

"The officials, who asked that their names not be used because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations, denied that Connecticut and Rutgers agreed to stay in the conference during a three-hour meeting among Big East football members on Monday."

At this point, the most we can say is that there is no evidence from either Rutgers or Connecticut that they have not applied for membership, and nothing shows they have committed in any way not to join another conference.

Perhaps best supporting the view that Connecticut has applied or will apply for ACC membership are the words of Connecticut's head basketball coach Jim Calhoun. While he said he always felt loyal to the Big East, he also felt that the natural rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and with the great games with ACC teams such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, he "believes the school is in a position where it must now find the best fit -- socially, academically and athletically. 'From a basketball standpoint, I would love to be at the most powerful conference in America,' he said."

Connecticut's head football coach Paul Pasqualoni was even more pointed in his comments.

"If you are going to keep that relationship with Syracuse and try to build that long-term rivalry, and build it with Pitt, that type of thing, then the only way evidently that would happen is if Connecticut went to the ACC," he said. "That's one of the factors. I think that's a big factor in what you do."