THE MANUEL ON WARDE
Don’t ask. No need. I’ll tell. The question I’ll most likely face the next week is what I think of the report out of Blacksburg, Virginia that UCONN athletic director Warde Manuel’s name is on a short list of candidates for the soon to be vacant A.D.’s post at Virginia Tech. I’ll tell you what I think right now and we can put it to rest.
Warde Manuel isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say his name isn’t going to show up on someone’s short list and he might even have an interest in taking a peek sometime in the future, but yesterday Manuel released a statement saying he’s had no contact with anyone at Virginia Tech about their job and he has no idea where the report came from. The source of the report alone was enough to give it a perception of validity, but it’s likely this short list was more of a wish list. Warde Manuel is young, African American and, in a relatively short time as the head of a high profile athletic department, he’s hired three dynamic coaches to head key programs, so far to positive results, a men’s basketball coach to succeed a legend, so far seamlessly, a men’s hockey coach to guide the transition into the powerful Hockey East, and a football coach to head up what is now the most critical program in all of college athletics at a time when the program is in need of revival, all with the good sense to not tinker with what’s already working. At the same time a brand new basketball practice facility is rising on campus. It’s no surprise Manuel’s name is mentioned on campuses far removed from Storrs, but not by Warde Manuel.
Just as I believe he never offered the football job to anyone but Bob Diaco because he would never find anyone better to offer it to, I also believe Warde Manuel has no designs on going anywhere, for the same reason. He’s in the perfect position for the future right where he is. My assessment, not one that he would speak publicly, as not to diminish the status of the American Athletic Conference.
While he did come away from the recent NCAA meetings in San Diego acknowleging the existence of the “Power Five” leagues, that the AAC is not one of them, and that they are poised to create their own, elite level of the NCAA, Manuel’s not likely to be forced to the back seat if he stays put. With four of the five already outlining a 16 team footprint for the future of the power leagues, the Big Ten has put itself in a precarious position, similar to the one that spelled the demise of the Big East, by ignoring the handwriting on the wall. As the one league that has resisted an expansion to 16, the Big Ten could find itself as the weak sister of the five.
The clock is not only ticking on UCONN, or any other team not in a “Power Five” league, it’s ticking on the Big Ten and the alarm could go off as early as the end of this academic year. There are few programs in the nation right now that are as good a fit with the Big Ten, athletically, academically and geographically, as UCONN. Adding the Huskies at this point would in no way diminish the Big Ten’s reputation, it would only enhance their status in the new level of the NCAA. For the first time since the restructuring of the NCAA began a decade ago, with the defections of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech from the Big East to the ACC, one of those power leagues may need UCONN at least as much as UCONN needs them.
Warde Manuel may be on the move to one of the power leagues, but in all probability he’ll be taking UCONN along with him.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.