Mailbag: Any chance Big Ten would want UConn?

It’s the time of week when I reach into my mailbag. Even with the offseason in full swing, there are some good questions this week. Thanks a lot! Let’s get started.

Games started aside, why should Mark Dantonio stay with Andrew Maxwell? He didn’t look great in the spring. He doesn’t do well under pressure. He isn’t mobile. Maxwell had tough shoes to fill with Kirk Cousins gone, but he hasn’t played to expectations. – Crunchy

No doubt, Maxwell had his struggles during a sometimes-bumpy 7-6 mark last season. He finished 10th in passing efficiency among the 11 Big Ten quarterbacks eligible, hitting just 52 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and nine picks. No doubt, an inconsistent receiving corps hurt Maxwell. But, as you point out, he had his struggles. And, the last time we saw him in a game, he was replaced by Connor Cook, who led MSU to a bowl win over TCU. Dantonio says Maxwell is the starter—for now. Stay tuned.

If everyone on the offensive side of the ball stays healthy, and the defense continues to improve, how far can Michigan go? What are its chances of beating Ohio State to end the season? – Jeremy Rieger

I think Michigan could win the Legends—and then advance to the Big Ten title game to play Ohio State. (If that happens, it will mean back-to-back meetings.) This is a program that still is transitioning its roster under Brady Hoke. The talent on defense continues to improve, while the offense finally can be fully functional under coordinator Al Borges, who wasn’t able to run his pro-style scheme with Denard Robinson. As for beating Ohio State, I think the Wolverines will have a shot—with the game being played in Ann Arbor. Remember, Michigan won the last time the teams met in the Big House.

Keep your eye on Nebraska junior cornerback Josh Mitchell. He has all the pedigree–not to mention the instincts and ability–to be better than his dad, who coached him in high school. He has a younger brother headed to Nevada as a corner this fall and an older brother who played at Colorado State as a corner, too. This family breads DBs. – Mo

Yes, he will be a good one for a Cornhuskers secondary that could be the strength of a Nebraska defense that has a lot to prove in 2013. Stanley JeanBaptiste, Andrew Green and Mitchell all started games last year at corner. Mohammed Seisay and Jonathan Rose are in the mix. Ciante Evans may be the best player on the defense, according to some, and he returns, too, after playing nickel. Both safeties are gone, but the Husker safeties were inconsistent–at best—in 2013.

NYC has been captivated numerous times by Big East basketball over the years. With UConn being readily available, and seemingly only hindered by its lack of academic heft, wouldn’t the Huskies be the perfect addition to the B1G?  If NYC is the prize, how can a team that has rocked MSG for decades be ignored as a possible addition? – Sean P

No doubt, UConn would bring some nice qualities to the Big Ten. But, I think the league already has the “eastern” presences that it desires. I have to think UConn will find a nice landing place someday. The basketball programs for the men and women are top-notch, and the football program has great facilities and continues to improve.

Do you think putting all of the power teams in one division is an attempt to make it easier for the weaker schools to have their day in the sun? – Jack Isaacs

No!! The new divisional alignments were done based on geography. Period. End of story. It just so happens more “traditional powers” reside on the Eastern side: Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. Michigan State also isn’t too shabby. Competitive balance was a factor when the Leaders and Legends Divisions were drawn up. But, no more.

Well, you picked the Buckeyes to have the top offensive and defensive lines, as well as the top quarterback unit. This kind of takes the suspense out of who you are picking to win the Big10, right? – Jeff Reece

I guess it does. How can anyone in the right mind not pick Ohio State to win the Big Ten? The offense returns practically intact led by the league’s top player in quarterback Braxton Miller. Yes, the front seven on defense is being revamped. But all indications are the line and linebackers will be as good—if not better—than last year.

Do you think it is possible for the Big Ten to make all-conference voting from the coaches public for football and basketball? Why can’t it be public? What’s wrong with transparency? – Oliver Lang

Hey, I am all for transparency. If coaches knew their votes would be known publicly, I have to think some of their decisions would be different. But, will it happen? I doubt it.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (13 Comments)
J.C. on 6/15/2013 @ 12:23pm EDT Said:

I think Tom is too nice to say that Connecticut has no chance of being invited into the Big Ten. UConn does nothing for the conference in terms of football, the sport many associate with a conferences success (or lack thereof).

It’s rather amazing how UConn fans cannot accept the school is in The American and just try to make the best of the situation.

Mike on 6/16/2013 @ 1:44pm EDT Said:

A few thoughts …

1. Yes, football is the primary driver of expansion. We have added two universities that are brands (Penn State, Nebraska) and two universities (Maryland, Rutgers) that reside in rich recruiting grounds and media markets.

2. No, I do not think UConn, or any university for that matter, should just accept being in the AAC or any conference and not attempt to better their situation. I think it reflects well on our conference that there are universities that wish to become a member of the B1G because of our academic and athletic success.

3. I think UConn would need to obtain membership in AAU for consideration to become a member of the B1G. However, while not an addition because of football, their success in basketball and proximity to the NYC market could bring additional value to the B1G and BTN.

4. UConn will have the opportunity to play Michigan as well as Maryland and Rutgers in football this fall at home. I think how competitive the game is on the field and the game day environment off the field could be an indicator of how well they would fit in the B1G.

Paul T. on 6/16/2013 @ 1:46pm EDT Said:

New York does not get excited about UConn basketball. Syracuse and St. Johns, along with some Big 10 schools like Michigan, pretty much own that area. Rutgers will take care of the NY football market and if their basketball team can get its act together, it will also take over the region. That school’s admittance to the Big 10 will be a game changer for both Rutgers and the Big 10. Rutgers is an AAU member with solid academics, a nice campus, and great football facilities. They need to upgrade their basketball arena to accommodate their new Big 10 conference rivals.

Even if UConn was able to become strong academically, they really don’t bring anything to the Big 10. Their small stadium is way off campus and they have only been playing big time football for a few years. UConn should try to make the best of its membership in the AAC and continue to focus on womens basketball where they have had incredible success.

Mike W. on 6/16/2013 @ 7:28pm EDT Said:

The thought of UConn in the B1G is laughable and pure fantasy (thankfully, they aren’t one of the schools already vetted by the B1G). Their football team plays in a 40k stadium (which never sells out), 35 minutes from the backwater of Storrs. They have no history and, in their best year, backed into a BCS bowl with four losses, including getting pounded by Michigan and losing to perennial powerhouses Temple and Rutgers. Not to mention none of their fans showed up in Tempe to see them get destroyed by Oklahoma.

Their hoops teams have a great recent history, but nobody cares about women’s bball and their scandal-ridden men’s team has the dubious distinction of being the only team banned from the NCAAs in the APR era – a black mark the B1G would never want on a member’s resume. Academically, they’re not AAU and will likely never be admitted (although I’m guessing their fans, along with those of about 40 other schools, claim they’re on the path to AAU membership). Their USNWR ranking is #63.

As a Wisco fan in NYC (where I’ve encountered probably 10 UConn fans in my six years here; Rutgers at least has a presence, albeit minor when compared to our flagship brands), I wasn’t on board with the Maryland/Rutgers addition for several reasons, but I can deal with it. Adding a worse school both academically and athletically in UConn would be horrific and severely dilute the best brand in college sports. Unless it’s Texas/ND or another school with an outstanding combo of athletics/academics, we need to stay at 14.

Larry on 6/17/2013 @ 6:14pm EDT Said:

Most of you only present that Uconn isn’t good in football(a money numbers game) which is fact as far as the academic situation Uconn has handle that & it was a minor slip up they correct immediately and they do have a big market in NYC Rutgers sucks in bball & they APR isn’t so great & which school in the B1G has a better resume in bball then UCONN …ill wait… & with KO on the bench look for Uconn to get right back to the top …the B1G could use UCONN(bball) & Uconn(fball) would benifit from playing in the B1G

Danallen on 6/18/2013 @ 8:50pm EDT Said:

The ignorance of the NYC market shown here is beyond astounding. The fact that UConn bball kicks off Cuse bball on SNY regularly is proof enough that the B1G fans know little to nothing about college basketball in the region.

Adam on 6/18/2013 @ 9:43pm EDT Said:

UConn is a top 10 men’s basketball program and has significant presence in both New York and Boston (where UConn fans made it an annual tradition to sell out Conte Forum on Boston College’s campus). UConn and Syracuse fans were, by far, the most represented at MSG for every Big East Tournament for the past 25+ years. To say that they don’t generate buzz in New York is completely absurd. Watch highlights of the 2011 Big East Final against Louisville (with sound) and you can hear just how much buzz UConn “doesn’t” generate in NYC. As for the program’s APR standing: it has been restored. The postseason ban was definitely unfortunate and a black eye, but the scores have been improved and the team is now eligible for postseason play in 2013-14. But let’s keep things in perspective here: missing APR scores is profoundly different than covering up pedophilia for decades (current B1G school), enrolling student athletes into fake courses (done at another rumored B1G target: UNC), or anything Rutgers has done in the past year (covering up coaching abuse and completely fudging the new coach and AD hires). The poor APR scores were a product of a 2007 team that most UConn fans ripped their hair out in frustration over for lack of effort (not surprising that they also shared the same lack of effort in the classroom as on the court) and during a time that the Athletic Director and school President (who are both no longer at the school) completely mismanaged most aspects of the university. Adding UConn basketball to the B1G profile absolutely, positively keeps the conference relevant in the coveted northeast and on national TV sets in competition with the ACC come regular and post-season.

UConn football is young and, in the past two years, has stalled during its unprecedented rise from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A. No program rose quicker than UConn and no program reached a BCS bowl faster. Yes, the Fiesta Bowl came in a year that UConn lost 4 games but the fact is that everybody in the Big East (including Rutgers, WVU, Cincinnati, Pitt, etc) had a chance to claim the league title but didn’t. Ask Rutgers fans how many BCS games they have had in their 140 year history. None. In fact, they only have 8 bowl games in their ENTIRE 140 YEAR HISTORY. 7 of them have come since 2005. UConn has 5 bowl appearances since stepping up their program. If Rutgers is seen as a football program worthy of B1G consideration, then so should UConn. Both are programs with recent success with fair representation in the NFL. Both are programs that, with B1G affiliation, will continue to grow. The Fiesta Bowl attendance is also vastly overstated. UConn received negative media attention for the number of tickets purchased through the university. But did you know that Oklahoma only sold about 2,000 more tickets than UConn? Like Oklahoma fans, UConn fans purchased their tickets on ticket vendors like StubHub and pieced together their own, much cheaper, package. The reason why UConn received the poor press is that the Big East didn’t buy out the remaining tickets that UConn didn’t sell whereas the Big 12 did for OU. Make no mistake, UConn travelled some 15,000-20,000 fans to the Fiesta (Google some crowd pics from that night). UConn football has been stalled for the past two seasons thanks in part due to an uninspired coaching hire by the former Athletic Director who lacked the same vision that its fans have had for years.

UConn academics are actually on par with several B1G schools. While it’s not AAU (yet), the school just received a $2B grant from the state of Connecticut to expand its campus facilities and research capabilities. UConn is going through an unprecedented faculty hiring period during a current four year stretch. UConn also ranks favorably to other AAU schools in many criteria. Its USNWR ranking of 63 ranks higher than current B1G schools: Purdue, Rutgers, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa, and Indiana. The school’s endowment is quite low compared to other B1G endowments (it sits around only $330M), but UConn President Susan Herbst is engaged in an initiative to raise it to $1B. The faculty hiring process that is currently on the way and the state grant recently approved will help.

In summary, UConn would be an EXCELLENT addition to the B1G. In addition to everything mentioned above, UConn has significant presence in the #1 (New York), #7 (Boston) and #30 (Hartford/New Haven) markets in the country. There isn’t a more attractive school that is so readily available than UConn if the B1G wanted to expand east and into more television sets.

For some more info:

JosephG on 6/19/2013 @ 3:23pm EDT Said:

Syracuse does not own NYC per NY Post: Paul T. Please read!

JosephG on 6/19/2013 @ 3:35pm EDT Said:

The boy from Wisconsin should not be throwing stones at anybody’s house

Joseph on 6/20/2013 @ 4:29am EDT Said:

“Remember, Michigan won the last time the teams met in the Big House.”
Is Luke Fickell the coach?

Dimitri on 6/27/2013 @ 10:22am EDT Said:

Uconn in the B1G is a not a great idea. No football program to speak of, no real market (half way between Boston and NYC and no real presence in either of them), good basketball but let’s see what happens with the program in post-Calhoun era. Potential is limited, stadium is 40K and CT is not a fertile recruiting territory.

At the end of the day, Uconn will not bring enough money to the B1G to justify having to slice the pie by one more piece.

Danallen on 6/27/2013 @ 12:03pm EDT Said:

Market awareness of Conn. is limited on this board. To say the least.

Dimitri on 6/28/2013 @ 1:32pm EDT Said:

I agree, the Uconn fans on this board are definitely unaware of how limited their market is. That’s why the professionals that do this for a living have advised these leagues to take other schools.