It has been nearly seven years since Boston College left the Big East for the ACC, yet bad blood still remains between BC and UConn. Could this bad blood - stemming from the bitter divorce between New England’s two Division I football programs - threaten the future of Connecticut Huskies football?
Despite numerous calls by UConn to bury the hatchet and renew a New England football rivalry, Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo has refused to return the Huskies’ call. Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, a former BC assistant coach under Tom Coughlin, has stated several times that he would love to play BC, saying that such a game would be great for New England. DeFilippo maintains that he won’t schedule the Huskies so long as he’s AD.
During a live chat hosted in 2006, DeFilippo unequivocally stated "There are no plans to play UConn in football or in basketball any time in the future."
It is clear that so long as Gene DeFilippo and school president William Leahy remain at BC, the Eagles and Huskies won’t play each other in either football or basketball. But just how did BC become so hostile towards its neighbor to the south?
Rewind the tape back to 2003. On October 12, the presidents of the 11 program Atlantic Coast Conference, having already raided the Big East by adding Miami and Virginia Tech, voted to add Boston College as the league’s twelfth member. BC’s decision to leave the Big East for the ACC was met with much disappointment from the Big East programs left behind.
One program in particular, the University of Connecticut, decided that mere disappointment wasn’t enough. Led by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the remaining Big East member schools - Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Connecticut - brought suit against the ACC, BC and Miami for improper disclosure of confidential information and conspiring to weaken the Big East.
At the time, the University of Connecticut had made critical investments in their school’s football program to support their move to college football’s top division in 2000. These investments included a $91.2 million dollar investment in Rentschler Field, a new 40,000 seat, off-campus football stadium. Blumenthal claimed that BC and Miami’s jump to the ACC would result in a write-down on these investments and a loss of TV broadcast revenue.
The lawsuit against the ACC was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, while BC was eventually exonerated by a declaratory judgment from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Even though the lawsuits were dismissed in court, a secret out-of-court settlement was later reached. It was disclosed that each remaining Big East school received $1 million, after the Hartford Courant filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the settlement documents. The $1 million figure hardly covered the plaintiff’s collective expenses incurred from over two years of litigation.
While Blumenthal’s lawsuit against Boston College, Miami and the ACC never went to trial, his decision to bring suit could have a profound impact on the future of UConn athletics.
Fast forward to present day. The Big Ten Conference has been shopping the idea of conference expansion for several months, a move that could trigger a tectonic shift in college football’s conference alignment. What first started as idle offseason speculation has quickly snowballed into serious consideration on the part of the Big Ten to expand the conference from anywhere from one to five programs.
The problem for UConn is that, even under the most ambitious Big Ten Conference expansion proposals - 5 team expansion to a 16 team mega-conference - UConn hasn’t made the Big Ten’s short list.
In fact, if the Big Ten decides that expanding to 14 or 16 teams is in their best interest, this likely means the death of the Big East as a football conference. High on the Big Ten’s expansion wish list are Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. If all three of these Big East programs decide to make the move to the Big Ten, UConn could quickly find themselves without a home in college football.
In order to protect their football investment, UConn would be left with precious few options in terms of joining another conference. Big East football would likely cease to exist, and the only remaining BCS conferences that represent any sort of geographical fit would be the ACC or the SEC. Less desirable options would include joining Conference USA, the MAC or becoming a football independent. However, joining a lesser conference such as Conference USA or the MAC would prove costly to UConn, as these avenues would preclude the Huskies from profiting from the financial windfall that comes from being a member of one of college football’s six BCS conferences.
It’s entirely plausible that in a scenario where the Big Ten poaches three current Big East programs, UConn could find itself going back to the ACC, hat in hand, asking to join the conference they once sued.
When the ACC decided to expand back in 2003, the league required that two-thirds of the school presidents vote in favor of expansion. If UConn decided to pursue joining the ACC, it seems unlikely that they would garner the necessary votes to be admitted to the conference; especially with the bad blood between BC and UConn stemming from the Blumenthal lawsuit.
Without a BCS conference home, the long-term viability of BC’s neighboring New England football program would be very much in doubt. Blumenthal’s decision to sue the ACC could ultimately cost the UConn football program much more than the legal fees incurred in the original lawsuit.