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UConn nothing more than a relic of fading Big East

Updated 7:58 am, Wednesday, December 26, 2012
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Every summer, it seems like 1970s rock relic Kansas comes to play in Connecticut, be it at the Milford Oyster Festival, the Norwalk Oyster Festival or whatever other oyster-centric festivals happen to exist up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Now, I'll have to admit, I like to hum along with "Dust in the Wind," or "Carry On My Wayward Son" if I hear it while waiting to get a haircut; but alas, I'm not the world's foremost expert on Kansas (the band or the state). Thanks to a little Internet research, you'll discover when Kansas tours nowadays, it's a shell of its "classic" 70s lineup with only two original members as it wheezes around the county fair circuit, belting out old hits to half-interested people drinking watered-down beer.

In the money-grabbing, musical-chairs scenario that is NCAA conference realignment, the Big East is Kansas -- a relic grasping to stick around despite nearly all of its original members moving on.

Sure, the "Big East" (in name) will chug along, even after founding members Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall, along with Marquette and DePaul, voted last week that they no longer wanted to be associated with this coast-to-coast amalgamation of middling football and mediocre basketball.

Conference commissioner Mike Aresco should do the right thing and retire the Big East name -- or let the Catholic schools take it with them. Unfortunately, as the league stands, about all it has to hang its hat on is the name itself. Let's try to pretend "Big East" football -- think Tulane vs. Central Florida on a Wednesday night on ESPNU -- appeals to anyone aside from those with an unhealthy gambling addiction.

Everything the people running the Big East have done since Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech bolted for the ACC in 2003 was try to find a way to make its football viable, or at least viable enough to television programmers so it could carve off a slice of the sweet, sweet BCS money cake. It doesn't matter if every single sports fan in America thinks it's a joke, the Big East eschewed any sense of first-grade geography and added Boise State and San Diego State for football in a last-ditch effort to stay relevant. And the league kept the charade going by adding a couple of unremarkable Conference USA schools to fill its ranks.

Much like the guy selling Bud for $5 a pop at a summer fair, let's keep watering it down as far as we can, people will still buy it.

The joke is really on the Big East, namely traditionally strong basketball schools Cincinnati and UConn, who are left holding the bag as the proposed television contract for the league's football product seems to shrink by the hour or is divided by as many far-flung time zones as the league expands into.

As an alumnus of UConn and fan of the Huskies for most of my 32 years, it's tough to swallow all this, to watch my school become marginalized with its only hope seemingly to grovel to the ACC or Big Ten to expand again and take us in. UConn President Susan Herbst can send out as many reassuring letters about the school's standing and faith in the "Big East" as she wants, but it's nothing more than lip service.

You can already see the apathy spilling out across Connecticut as a result of this turmoil and diminished, bastardized "Big East." You could've held archery practice at UConn's final home football game against Cincinnati earlier this month without harming anyone at Rentschler Field. The rows and rows of empty seats at the XL Center or even Gampel Pavilion for Husky basketball games are becoming harder to ignore.

What's probably the hardest to digest is all this was done for football, a sport UConn didn't fully enter on the FBS level until 2002.

Yes, Rentschler Field is a nice facility. Sure, the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 was an unexpected surprise for a school barely a decade into its full-fledged D-I journey.

At the same time, in the Nutmeg State, it's college basketball that's in our blood. Football, try as it might, simply isn't.

It's difficult not to equate the ruination of basketball traditions with the chase for big-time football and the supposed dollars it creates.

You can build stadiums and training facilities, but you can't build tradition overnight. Unless the Huskies get lucky and the ACC extends an invitation, they're nothing more than dust blowing in the wind as the NCAA restructures itself.

It's hard to think any other way than UConn sold its soul for the Motor City Bowl.

mcardillo@ctpost.com; @CTPostCardillo

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