This weekend, I decided to rent a car and drive down to Connecticut to visit friends for a night of extremely drunken debauchery (nothing says great time like rooting for the Bruins and Red Sox in the middle of a Yankee bar). Driving home Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to throw up on the side of the highway under a brown sign that said "Rentschler Field"
Since I was completely unequivocally hung over, I opted to make my drive home to Boston a tour of some college athletics sites. You know - stop at Fairfield, Yale, and, when it came time to pass by it, UConn.
I've spent substantial time with Yale and UConn hockey, so I know what the Whale and Freitas Forum are like. But in my 10 years or so of going to Yale hockey with ECAC teams, I never stopped to see the Yale Bowl.
The Yale Bowl is a complete megalith of a structure, rising up through the grass and cut into the ground. It's actually a beautiful facility, and looking at it, it actually looks like something where you can think about 1950's New York Giants players running out of a tunnel. The bathroom buildings outside the tunnels left something to be desired, but I legitimately enjoyed taking in the complex of that, the tennis facility used for the New Haven Invitational (the old Pilot Pen) and the Yale Baseball Field that also echoes back to a time when sports weren't about money and steroids (which is funny because it's the Ivy League and Yale is all about the money!).
On the drive home, I made the stop off I-84 to check out Rentschler Field and compare the two, simply because I was sweating out pure Busch Latte deliciousness and needed to stop. For anyone who's never been, Rentschler Field is situated in a very Gillette Stadium-esque setting. The long drive up to the stadium has ample parking spaces, and it splits its territory with a giant Cabela's (think Bass Pro Shops. It's pretty much the same). The exterior of Rentschler looks exactly like Gillette, only smaller, right down to the glass concourse/function hall/luxury booth/whatever it is.
The one thing about Rentschler Field, though, is that it's nothing more than a 1/10th model of Gillette and it's very disappointing at that. There's virtually no seating, and there's no upper deck. For a stadium situated a solid half hour from campus, one would've assumed it would be built to be this mega draw, but instead it's not. Based on what UConn people brag and thump their chest about, I assumed it would compare with Alumni Stadium, only be slightly more modern. But it's not.
My main observation is that UConn people have, for the better part of realignment, tried to force themselves into the ACC from the failing Big East. They did so on the premise that their baseball and basketball teams could be competitive (which they could), and they were slowly starting to replace Boston College as the preeminent football program in New England. In that regard, they're not.
The RF facility could be expanded, but it's only appearing to have one deck and (with a quick check) has a listed facility of 40,000. But that 40,000-seat stadium looked extremely small. if Alumni Stadium has 4,000 more seats, then it looks like it has about 10,000 more. And that's without the large glass exterior. that looks like exactly like a New England Patriot rip off.
I'm not saying UConn can't be a viable D1 program; it clearly is, and they have a resume to back it up. They are a legitimate D1 program, and they deserve to be in the hunt for bowls. I support the football team and what they're accomplishing. But to say that they're on part with the ACC is hogwash. Pitt plays at Heinz Field, and the Carrier Dome seats almost 50,000. Adding them makes sense because they can compete with the stadiums around the league. Adding UConn would give the ACC essentially another Duke, who seats 33,000, or Wake Forest, who seats less.
Again, I'm not saying that UConn is a bad program. I'm just saying that it's undersized and a little overrated until you actually look into it. The basketball program would be legitimate, but the ACC has no need for a basketball-centric conference. Syracuse and Pitt have potential to become football powers, and Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame. And maybe it's just because I was hung over, but I wasn't impressed.
The AAC will be a good fit with Navy, Temple, East Carolina, Houston, and SMU. Accepting that and accepting program limitations are what allow aspirations to flow. UConn can be great one day, but they'd all be better served if they'd accept what they are and stop thinking about what they're not.