HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun says he wants Connecticut to become part of the nation’s best basketball conference — whatever that will be.
Calhoun spoke to The Associated Press by telephone Monday about UConn’s future following the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Calhoun said he’s always felt a loyalty to the Big East, where UConn is a charter member, but believes the school is in a position where it must now find the best fit — socially, academically and athletically.
“From a basketball standpoint, I would love to be at the most powerful conference in America,” he said.
Calhoun said he has consulted with University President Susan Herbst about a possible move, and believes she will do the right thing for the school.
He said UConn has had great rivalries with both Syracuse and Pittsburgh, as well as a history of great games with teams such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. But he stopped short of endorsing a move to the ACC.
“That decision will be made at a presidential level,” he said. “I’ve talked to Susan about this and very simply, we need to do what’s best for UConn. We need to look at where we fit best and what’s the best for us.”
Calhoun said he believes Connecticut would be a desirable asset to any conference because it brings two top basketball programs, a strong football program, which has an expandable stadium, a top-20 academic ranking and an ideal location.
“We sit near Fairfield county, where many of our fans are from, a bedroom community for New York City,” he said. “I don’t know of any other school, with the exception of St. John’s, Seton Hall that has that much influence in that city, the media capital of the world.”
UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni also weighed in on the issue Monday, during the weekly Big East football coach’s conference call. Pasqualoni, who spent 14 years coaching Syracuse before being fired in 2004, says maintaining that northeast rivalry should be a consideration.
“If you are going to keep that relationship with Syracuse and try to build that long-term rivalry, and build it with Pitt, that type of thing, then the only way evidently that would happen is if Connecticut went to the ACC,” he said. “That’s one of the factors. I think that’s a big factor in what you do.”
Pasqualoni said he has not had time to sit down and discuss the possible move with top administrators, including Herbst. UConn’s new athletic director, Paul Pendergast, does not start his job until Oct. 1. But Pasqualoni said he doesn’t believe the decision-making process can wait that long.
“These are things that are going to have to be discussed very quickly, in the very near future and decisions are going to have to be made,” he said. “We want to be in, obviously, the best position for UConn, being in a BCS conference, and be in a conference with teams we think we have similarities with — a chance to have some rivalries, a chance to develop relationships within the conference, geographically, if that’s possible. So there’s a lot think about.”
The Big East’s exit fee is only $5 million, and schools wanting to leave are supposed to provide 27 months’ notice.
Herbst issued a statement on Sunday that said the school was keeping its options open.
“The truth is that our teams will play competitive athletics at the highest level of excellence, wherever things land, and our central goals will be academic success and compliance, always,” she said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.