Get ready for another round of potential chaotic conference expansion speculation and maneuvering. And for USF and UCF there has to be simultaneous excitement but also concern with the latest news.
First, a report on Friday night that the University of Connecticut (or UConn, as they are commonly known) is about to suddenly depart the American Athletic Conference and return to their previous longtime conference home, the Big East.
The website and publication “Digital Sports Desk” had the story first that the Huskies are on the verge of departing the American and being back with some familiar foes in the Northeast, as soon as 2020:
BREAKING: #SportsBiz – Digital Sports Desk has learned, the University of Connecticut Huskies are making plans to return to the Big East Conference for basketball, according to multiple sources who could not comment publicly – visit https://t.co/Lqe1nySVZV
— DigitalSportsDesk (@DigSportsDesk) June 22, 2019
The outlet, which is based in Boston, reported that the only immediate holdup is UConn trying to figure out what happens with its flailing football program that went 1 – 11 and 0-8 in the American last year.
This is because, the Big East, since reconstituting in 2014, has gone back to its previous “basketball powerhouse” mentality of the 1980s in recent years. And, therefore, all of its members don’t rely on football any longer. Further example of this is: none of the current Big East members have a Division One football program.
The prominent basketball centered original members of the Big East like Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence, wanted to go back to the previous model and mindset.
Speaking of prominent members, UConn’s men won NCAA hoop titles in 1999, 2004 and 2009, while in the Big East and a fourth title in 2014. And, their women’s program under legendary coach Geno Aurieamma has won 11 National Championships.
With the others departing in 2014, the American Conference formed, with existing Big East teams like USF, Cincinnati and UConn joining up with schools like Houston, Memphis, SMU and of course, UCF on invites.
The American began playing football in 2014, as well, and has 12 football playing schools currently, including the U.S. Naval Academy.
More than likely, the Huskies will have to become a football independent at the Division One or FBS level at least in the short-term, and may actually consider dropping back to the FCS level, where they once played. This is because of the significant money drain that football can be on a program that is unsuccessful and losing money for a long amount of time.
Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant reported on Saturday morning that UConn is awaiting an official invitation but formal announcement could come very quickly that the Huskies will go back into the conference that they helped form in 1979:
I can confirm that UConn is awaiting official invitation to the Big East and a formal announcement of the move is forthcoming. First reported by @DigSportsDesk
UConn football likely lands in another conference or goes independent, starting in 2020 season.
— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) June 22, 2019
Now, for the reality for the rest of the American teams?
Will there be new openings and opportunities forthcoming for schools like: Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, and of coursre, USF and UCF to jump to another League? The first and most obvious point is that another conference that has football has to start dealing invites.
And there’s not a guarantee that it will happen.
The widespread belief is that the Big XII, which currently is constituted with only 10 schools, would be that conference to invite at least two, but as many as possibly six teams to become a “super conference.” And therefore, it would make the Big XII much more attractive when all of its television deals are up in the early 2020s.
If going to 16 teams is the case, then the USF Bulls and the UCF Knights would be in prime position, as a Florida package deal to join in, with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. It has been long speculated that Houston, because of its media market size and SMU (Dallas) for the same reason, would be offered.
And, the fact that the Cougars and the Mustangs are schools, who were previously with current Big XII teams, Texas, TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech in the old Southwest Conference, would be the logical choices to fit in to the Big XII, if they only expand back by two more teams.
The Big XII also stands to have a massive new TV and internet multi-media deal for it’s schools soon.
Keep in mind that in March the American just announced television multi media rights and revenue deal for its member schools. And, the 12 year $1 billion deal with ESPN was supposed to entice teams to stay. Also, Commissioner Mike Aresco got the league member schools to agree to a more significant penalty for leaving and sign away, “grant of rights” for trying to leave for another conference.
That means that UConn or anyone else, gives up their all of their TV revenue and other outside of the conference money for the next few years, if they try to leave.
That’s why UConn essentially downgrading football anyway, makes more sense in this scenario.
UCF has won the American Conference Football Championship in each of the last two years (above) and represented the conference in a New Year’s Six Bowl game both times. They stunned the Auburn Tigers in the 2018 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, but lost a year ago to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Both games were a massive financial windfall for the Knights and the American.
USF is also extremely attractive because the Tampa Bay television market is number 11 in the country and has a huge football fan base. The Bulls also have had recent success, including an 11 win season in 2017.
Meanwhile, the American could obviously add schools (like they did before) from Conference USA or the Sun Belt to replace UConn or any other members that try to leave.
Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl
The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.
Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.
Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.
Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.
Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,
“We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”
Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.
This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.
The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.
New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls
As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.
First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.
The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.
Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.
Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.
As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.
The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.