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Herbst Says Other Sports Will Factor In Conference Decision, Not Just Football, Basketball

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Susan Herbst (Pat Eaton-Robb/AP Photo)

Susan Herbst (Pat Eaton-Robb/AP Photo)

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By PAT EATON-ROBB,  Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ The discussion over where Connecticut might
fit in a revised college conference landscape has centered around
the school’s football and basketball programs, but University
President Susan Herbst says there are other key considerations.

“For us it goes so far beyond football and basketball, and I
know that that is everybody’s obsession,” she told The Associated
Press this week. “We are terrific in soccer; we had an amazing
baseball season where we are dominant in the northeast, so all that
matters. We’re powerful in the big sports, but we also have this
incredible depth. We have women’s volleyball, we have all these
students to worry about and we don’t want to lose them in the
equation.”

Connecticut has 24 athletic programs and about 700 athletes.
Herbst said it is important to her that the school becomes part of
a conference where all of them can compete at a high level. And she
said with so many sports to consider, there are also fiscal
concerns.

Once conference scenario has UConn being part of a merger
between the Big East football schools and at least some of what is
now the Big 12. Herbst said she is concerned about any alignment
that might involve a major increase in travel and more missed class
time.

“I try to put on the lens of seeing this through how it is to
be a student athlete, balancing competition and academics,” Herbst
said. “So, I think that if everyone would put on these lenses when
they get into these conversations, for their own institution . I
think the conversation would probably be more productive.”

Paul Haagen, the co-director of the Center for Sports Law and
Policy at Duke University, said it makes sense that UConn might be
more interested in following Syracuse and Pittsburgh into the
Atlantic Coast Conference, where travel time isn’t as great.

“I think that would clearly be more attractive to
Connecticut,” he said. “That would be a more natural set of
rivalries. The travel is dramatically easier. I don’t know what
part of the Big 12 would be (part of a merger) but getting to
Manhattan, Kansas from Storrs is no easy trick.”

Haagen said while football will clearly drive what happens, the
ACC likely finds the rest of UConn’s resume very attractive.

“If UConn were in it, you would have two or three of the most
important women’s basketball programs, you’d have some of the most
powerful l men’s basketball programs, that obviously is
attractive,” he said.

Herbst said she has not been shy about promoting UConn’s
reputation as a leader in women’s sports during these discussions.

“I don’t think that there is anybody in the country that has
done as much for women’s athletics as Geno (Auriemma) has at
UConn,” she said. “So that is part of our brand. In addition to
bringing the New York market and this incredible fan base wherever
we go, we are just a leader in women’s athletics. One of the things
that makes us incredibly attractive in this conversation is yes,
the big-money sports, but also women’s sports that are just
inspiring to so many girls around the country. It’s astounding.

“It’s one of the things were proudest of.”

Haagen said he has no idea what the ACC might do. He said it’s
also possible UConn could address its regional concerns by putting
the major sports in one conference, and finding another option,
“something like the ECAC” for all its other sports.

“Women’s basketball clearly adds a luster, it’s attractive,”
he said. “If you have a school, like UConn that has an
extraordinary set of academic programs and is just a place people
want to be associated with, that’s attractive. What’s going to
drive this though is football.

“If the other things line up, yes that is going to be
important. But are conferences going around saying, `Oh my gosh, we
could have Connecticut women’s basketball and therefore we have to
bring them in?’

“I don’t think that’s happening.”

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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