|UConn isn't a reject, it just sits in limbo for now. Could be a couple of weeks, could be a couple of years. (Getty Images)|
On Wednesday, UConn fans literally awoke to the news that Louisville, not the Huskies, earned the ACC's lust and trust and would be the member institution to replace outgoing Maryland.
Plenty of Connecticut fans are feeling left out and depressed, like the kid forced to make out with the wallmats of his high school gym as the homecoming DJ packs up his gear while playing "Stairway to Heaven."
But the party is, of course, so far from over. While UConn struck out for a second time on getting the ACC's invite, that doesn't mean hope is lost on ultimately leaving the Big East for an upgrade to the ACC. (And, as you'd expect, UConn's president is taking the high road all along with this.) This is just the reality for UConn, one I've been long curious about. Without Jim Calhoun, with a still-budding-but-not-proven football program and poor geographical birthrights, Connecticut simply doesn't offer as much as so many other would-be candidates.
UConn was never going to be first on the ACC's list. Or second, third or fourth. But it's key to continually remind one's self of how we're not dealing with realignment; this is simply league evolution. Conferences have changed all across the map almost every year for the past three decades -- this is purely the most volatile movement we've ever seen. The volcanoes are finally giving way, and they don't stop spewing so suddenly. UConn's time could very well come. The lava is still spilling out. The ACC is the most powerful basketball league today and for the future, yes, but there's no saying it's actually something stable.
Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech: all programs who would instantly leave the ACC for the SEC or, less likely, the Big Ten. Maybe even the Big 12, should that lion lurking in the tall grass look to act and attack again.
Louisville -- reportedly the most valuable team in college basketball -- getting tapped ahead of UConn (and Cincinnati) was a needed reality check. But look at it this way, UConn fans. Take the ACC's perspective. It didn't know the true timetable or intentions of any other league. Who can you trust, you know? So if you're the ACC, you know this: The Big Ten and SEC can get anyone they'd like. Anytime. They can offer a lot more money, TV exposure, opportunity, money, that coveted "footprint," money and money. That means, right now, the ACC is only really in potential recruiting battles (I love the grander themes at play here) with the Big 12.
The Big 12 could be the conference that's targeting potential future teams. Can the Big 12 really only stay at 10? That seems strange. That league is oddly quiet right now, wouldn't you say? So the ACC had no idea if Louisville, which was previously in talks with the Big 12, was vulnerable for the poach. It couldn't gamble on waiting six months before signing the Cardinals.
Louisville's the more valuable commodity; ergo, Louisville needed to be the primary target immediately, especially since the ACC wanted to replace Maryland and get that 14th team back. What it did was upgrade. UConn is the safety net, the program that's essentially on the same basketball and football level as Maryland. It's on a to-do list. The Big 12 and SEC aren't going to be looking to take UConn. The ACC knows this. It can make UConn wait while it gets more important things in order.
So it could be two weeks or two years before we know if UConn is going to be the big fish in the Big East or join the ranks of what's clearly, far and afreakingway, the best college basketball league going forward. The ACC isn't done, and neither is the Big East or most other conferences. This is about pecking order and priority. Despite becoming a top-five basketball program in the past 15 years, UConn just found out where it truly lies in the greater dominion. But don't worry, Connecticut, your time is gonna come.