HARTFORD, Conn. — A University of Connecticut official says the school is working to leave the American Athletic Conference and return to the Big East for basketball and other sports.
The official confirmed Saturday that there have been talks with the Big East, but said they were not aware any invitation had been extended. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The school released a statement saying it is “our responsibility to always be mindful of what is in the best interest of our student-athletes, our fans and our future. With that being said, we have been and remain proud members of the American Athletic Conference.
The Big East and American conferences declined to comment on the potential move, which was first reported by the website Digital Sports Desk.
UConn is changing presidents and had not been expected to finalize any move until Thomas Katsouleas takes over from Susan Herbst in August. The official said the school also has not decided what to do with its football program, a sport the current Big East does not offer.
But two other people with knowledge of the discussions also confirmed the negotiations and said an announcement from the schools and conference could come early next week.
The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no decision had been announced.
The conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10 million withdrawal fee and give 27 months’ notice before leaving. But those who spoke to AP said UConn would not be allowed to remain in the AAC for football beyond the 2019 season.
UConn was a charter member of the Big East, which was formed in 1979 and the Huskies never actually left the conference.
The AAC was formed by UConn and the other remaining conference schools in 2013 after the league’s basketball-focused private schools broke away, eventually negotiating to take the conference name with them.
UConn became a national power in basketball as a Big East school, winning three men’s titles under coach Jim Calhoun and eight women’s NCAA championships under Geno Auriemma.
The school added another men’s title and three more women’s championships as members of the American.
UConn football also found some success in the Big East going to five bowl games, including the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. But when Big East football collapsed so did the Huskies’ program, going 28-69 since that season.
UConn also expressed displeasure in March when the American and ESPN announced a new 12-year television contract designed increase revenue to the league’s schools, but put many of its games on ESPN-plus, the company’s subscription digital platform.
The new deal with ESPN begins in 2020-21, and does not change if the AAC has only 11 football teams, but the conference will explore bringing in a new member to stay at an even and more manageable 12, one of the people with knowledge of the situation said.
Wichita State, which does not have football, also competes in the American, an addition made to boost basketball two seasons ago.
After the old Big East was picked apart in the last round of realignment — losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers — it managed to reconstitute as the American by bringing in mostly larger-media market schools with football upside such as Houston, Memphis, SMU and Tulane. The conference also brought in Navy as a football-only member.
American Commissioner Mike Aresco, who took the job as the Big East was trying to find a way to survive with football and before the basketball schools split, had a deal to bring Boise State and San Diego State into the conference as football-only members in 2012 but those Mountain West schools backed out.
Aresco also had talks with BYU, a football independent with its other sports in the West Coast Conference, but could not reach a deal.
The American has long wanted to add Army, but the service academy has been reluctant to join a conference and give up control of its schedule. Air Force, another Mountain West school, also has been a school that has interested the American.
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No. 20 Baker Steinkuhler, DT, 2011-2012: Perhaps the best way to show his impact was how his absence, due to injury, shaped the 2012 Big Ten Championship game. Without him, Nebraska seemed powerless to stop Wisconsin’s running game. Steinkuhler had 87 tackles and 12 for loss over the last two seasons of his career. He didn’t miss a start for three seasons — until the Big Ten Championship.
No. 19 Eric Martin, LB/DE, 2011-2012: A great special teams player in his first two years at Nebraska, Martin found his footing in his final two seasons at NU, especially in 2012, when he had 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He was first-team All-Big Ten as a result.
No. 18 Jeremiah Sirles, OT, 2011-2013: There aren’t many offensive linemen on the list, but Sirles — a versatile, steady performer who didn’t miss a start in his final two seasons — deserves mention. He played left and right tackle as injuries to teammates dictated and won second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012.
No. 17 Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, 2011-2013: He seemed headed for a footnote career — an interception in the big comeback win over Ohio State in 2011 — until a spectacular senior year, in which he had four interceptions, 12 pass breakups and made second-team All-Big Ten. He had interceptions in four straight games, too.
No. 16 Quincy Enunwa, WR, 2011-2013: He might have cracked the top five had NU not wasted his freshman year on a handful of plays. Enunwa was raw out of high school, but by his senior year, he wasn’t just a good blocker and a hard guy to tackle — he was a top-shelf receiver. In 2013, he had 51 catches for 753 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns, the last of which was a 99-yarder to beat Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
No. 15 Alfonzo Dennard, CB, 2011: Even if his best season was 2010, Dennard won Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2011. Dennard most notably shut down Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham, who was held without a catch in the 2011 game in Lincoln. Teams often threw away from Dennard during his senior year.
No. 14 Ciante Evans, CB, 2011-2013: He started 33 games and really hit his stride in 2013, when he had 11 tackles for loss and four interceptions on his way to first-team All-Big Ten honors. Evans was versatile enough to play nickel for NU and sometimes gets lost in the shuffle in recent Husker history.
No. 13 Stanley Morgan, WR, 2015-present: Poised to rise deep into the top 10 by the end of his senior year, Morgan will likely end his career as one of the best receivers in Nebraska football history. He broke the team’s single-season record for receiving yards last year with 986 yards. The career records for catches, yards and even touchdowns are also in sight. He has 1,743 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career thus far.
No. 12 Tommy Armstrong, QB, 2013-2016: He played in 45 games, started 44 and had his share of great moments — 2014 Iowa, 2015 Michigan State and 2016 Oregon. He also won two bowl games. He had 8,871 career passing yards, 1,819 rushing yards and 90 total touchdowns. He was tough as nails, too, but rarely played his best when Nebraska had the most to gain.
No. 11 Randy Gregory, DE, 2013-2014: Easily the most gifted Nebraska athlete of the Big Ten era, Gregory ran and leapt like a puma. Is it unfair to have him outside the top 10? Many would say yes. For me, he’s No. 11. When Gregory was good — for the last half of 2013 — he was great, but his up-and-down play in 2014 drops him a little bit on the list. Gregory left after his junior year to play in the NFL.
No. 10 Nate Gerry, S, 2013-2016: The man made a lot of plays at Nebraska, especially those 13 interceptions and 19 pass breakups. Gerry could be inconsistent, but he tended to raise his game deeper into Big Ten play. His signature game might have been 2016 Wisconsin, when he had two interceptions, or 2014 Iowa, when he had an end-zone pick and 15 tackles.
No. 9 Jordan Westerkamp, WR, 2013-2016: No recent Husker receiver had more highlight catches and plays than “Westy,” who was a sturdy option on third down and on the receiving end of Hail Mary play in the 2013 Northwestern game. Clutch when it counted — on fourth down against Oregon in 2016, on the final drive against Michigan State in 2015 — Westerkamp finished with 2,474 yards receiving.
No. 8 Maliek Collins, DT, 2013-2015: Focused from the day he got on campus, Collins missed only one game over three seasons before declaring early for the NFL Draft. His signature season came in 2014 as a sophomore, when he finished with 14 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries. Collins was one of the best high school recruits of the Bo Pelini era.
No. 7 Spencer Long, OG, 2011-2013: The best offensive lineman in the Big Ten era was, of course, a walk-on. Long was a nimble-but-powerful road grader at guard, capable of getting out in front of a ballcarrier or warding off a blitz. After making first-team All-Big Ten in 2012, his senior year in 2013 was cut short by an injury at Purdue.
No. 6 Will Compton, LB, 2011-2012: A lunch-pail guy who emerged as one of Nebraska’s best pure leaders in the Big Ten era. Compton had 192 tackles, 13 for loss and an interception returned for a touchdown over his last two seasons. He was a big part of NU's first two Big Ten teams, arguably its two best, including the divisional championship team in 2012.
No. 5 Kenny Bell, WR, 2011-2014: He holds Nebraska’s career records for receptions and receiving yards, and he had his share of highlight plays — that one-handed catch against Illinois defied logic. Bell’s speed made him a deep threat that opened up the rest of the field, and he had a memorable kickoff return touchdown to help beat Penn State in 2013. He peaked as a sophomore — 50 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns — but he may have been at his best in the 2013 Michigan State game when he caught seven passes for 81 yards against elite corners. He was a fan favorite for his smile, his friendliness and, yes, the hair.
No. 4 Rex Burkhead, RB, 2011-2012: As beloved as any running back in Husker history. Burkhead was a smiling, often quiet battler who had sweet moves and a lot of toughness to plow through injuries. His junior year in 2011 — when he ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns — was notable, and Burkhead played in eight games as a senior, overcoming a knee injury suffered in the season opener.
No. 3 Taylor Martinez, QB, 2011-2013: Too high? Think again. Nebraska wins the Big Ten Legends crown in 2012 because of Martinez’s ability to pull big plays from seemingly thin air, and coaches voted him first-team All-Big Ten too. His junior season — 2,871 yards passing, 1,019 yards rushing, 33 total touchdowns — was marked by double-digit comeback wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan State. Martinez’s senior season was marred by a dislocated toe, but he didn’t miss a game in 2011 or 2012.
No. 2 Lavonte David, LB, 2011: He played just one year in the Big Ten, but what a season! David was Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and an All-American with 133 tackles, 13 for loss, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions. His superb play helped the Huskers win two of their biggest games in 2011 — Penn State and Ohio State — and his pass-coverage skills were crucial in wins over Iowa and Washington. David is one of the best linebackers in school history.
No. 1 Ameer Abdullah, RB, 2011-2014: A no-brainer, Abdullah is one of the best running backs in school history, finishing with 4,744 yards rushing and becoming the first Husker to have three 1,000-yard seasons. A bizarre goal-line injury against Purdue in 2014 slowed his Heisman and Doak Walker campaigns, and also kept him from setting the school’s all-time rushing record. Still, that season — with his masterpiece of 229 yards on 35 carries against Miami — won’t be soon forgotten. Nebraska missed Abdullah more in 2015 and 2016 than fans may appreciate.