Published November 29. 2012 4:00AM
Conference realignment and expansion has left the sports fans of Connecticut dumbfounded for a while now, surely exacerbated by Wednesday's news that Louisville would replace Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The fans ask: Why can't UConn escape the morass of the Big East and earn an invitation to the ACC? Why? Why? Why?
Sources in the ACC said Wednesday that Louisville's overall athletic profile is a "better fit," illustrating some alarming perceptions about UConn in other parts of the country.
Some background: There's a theory gaining traction - and hardly a secret anymore - that the Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12 and SEC may expand to 16 teams apiece, becoming a 64-school conglomerate that secedes from the NCAA. It would create its own power structure, rules, championships and TV contracts with, very likely, the most powerful 64 schools in the country.
ACC officials, unsure if poachers are lurking, are petrified to lose Clemson and Florida State to the SEC. Hence, Louisville, with the better football program at the moment, drew the latest invitation from the ACC to appease Clemson and Florida State.
The ACC needs to stay as strong in football as possible, one league source said, to lessen the likelihood of defections.
In addition, another league source said nobody is convinced UConn men's basketball is going to be a national player again now that Jim Calhoun has retired, thus making Louisville a better option.
It's possible, one of the sources said, UConn would have earned an invitation to the ACC in previous years but for Calhoun's neglect of academics and his repeated spars with the NCAA. The ACC, which considers itself a highly academic conference, was willing to overlook Louisville's overall lack of academic cachet.
We here in Connecticut can scream until our spleens shatter. It just doesn't matter. I was astonished Wednesday at the number of tepid perceptions outside Connecticut of UConn and its athletic programs.
I asked some athletic administrators at various universities Wednesday - men and women with ties to Connecticut who understand UConn's history - if the UConn they recall is the UConn others see. They all said pretty much the same thing: It's a decent state school, but no paragon for academia. Nobody has much respect nationally for UConn football. Calhoun bent the rules in ways which the new coach won't be permitted. They see women's basketball as the only cornerstone moving forward. And nobody cares about women's basketball outside Connecticut.
And that, really, is the biggest reason they're not in the ACC or anywhere else. What UConn offers just doesn't command as much respect as we might think.
Once again: It doesn't matter how much the people of Connecticut hate that. That's the perception.
I'm not sure how that gets fixed. Maybe what's here is good enough one day to earn an invitation if the ACC wants 16 schools. Maybe not. But I can't say I'm terribly confident in the school's leadership today after reading president Susan Herbst's rah-rah-sis-boom-bah retort to Wednesday's news:
"I know this may seem like a tough moment for our fans," she said in a statement released through the university, "but we need to focus on the fundamentals of academic success across the university and in our athletic program as well.
"We are winners. We win, we like to win and we will continue to play the best possible opponents. We will be athletically successful, regardless of our conference, because of our successes in NCAA competition. We will keep building our winning record through the lens of a great university, that focuses on academics, not on the fluid and unpredictable nature of conference realignment.
"Again, I realize this is a difficult day, but when we focus on research, discovery, and student success, we'll never go wrong."
President Herbst has been criticized for a perceived passive stance toward UConn's place in conference realignment. I found that unfair. Conveying your message to the appropriate parties doesn't require a Richard Blumenthal-like assault on the TV cameras.
But after reading other published reports about Louisville's extensive lobbying to the ACC, I expected a little more substance from Herbst to UConn fans. All it really revealed is that she needs a new speechwriter.
And, based on the evidence, a new commitment to selling her university.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.