WEST HARTFORD - The presidents of the schools in the Big East voted Monday to extend an invitation to UConn to rejoin the conference for basketball and other sports.
A person with firsthand knowledge confirmed that the schools’ presidents voted by conference call on Monday morning. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
UConn has a Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Wednesday when it is expected to accept the invitation, and an announcement is expected from the Big East as early as Thursday morning.
“I know a little bit about the back and forth on it. I think it could be a great thing for the state,” Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday. “Let's face it, UConn, in particular UConn basketball, we can compete with anybody. We're ready to take on the very best. Let's see how the negotiations go.”
The result of the vote was first reported Monday by CBS Sports.
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma cautioned that the expected move doesn't mean a return to the glory days of the old Big East.
The Hall of Fame coach, speaking to reporters at a charity golf event, noted the conference is not the same one that once included schools such as Notre Dame and Louisville.
“It's like saying you're moving back to your hometown, but the block that you lived on and half the city is gone,” he said. “It's not the same.”
Auriemma said his team's success has never depended on what conference it is in, and he doesn't see that changing.
The UConn women have never lost to an American Athletic Conference opponent, going 120-0 in the regular season and six conference tournaments.
The conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10 million withdrawal fee and give 27 months’ notice before leaving. But terms of the departure were still being negotiated on Monday.
UConn is expected to spend at least another season in the AAC before it moves, and junior Megan Walker said keeping that spotless record intact will be a priority. She said the Huskies understand the league's other teams now have even more motivation to beat them.
“Ever since I got to the University of Connecticut, we've always been the black hats, the bad guys,” she said. “I enjoy it. If we didn't want that challenge, we wouldn't be here at this university. I'm excited to leave the conference or whatever. Whatever conference we are in, I'm excited to play.”
Trading trips to Tulsa and Tulane for games at St. John's and Villanova, Auriemma acknowledged, would help the school when it comes to finances and selling fan interest. UConn currently is dealing with a deficit in its athletic division of more than $40 million.
Auriemma said he's not sure what the move means for the future of UConn's football program. But the coach said he can foresee a day when all schools, not just UConn, have multiple conference affiliations based on what is best for each sport. UConn already plays hockey in Hockey East and has retained its Big East membership in field hockey and lacrosse.
Auriemma also challenged UConn fans, many of whom he noted have been calling for the Huskies to rejoin the Big East for six years, to back up their preference by attending more games.
“So, if this does happen, there better be 16,000 at the XL Center every night,” he said.