With some appreciated assistance from the sports information department, I was able to get a 10-minute interview this morning with UConn athletic director Warde Manuel and produced this article on how UConn and BYU are sort of kindred spirits in the college football landscape right now. Both schools have tasted success at the highest level, but are currently on the outside looking in with the onset of the College Football Playoff in 2014.
"I would agree in the sense that we have both proven to be, over the years, very strong programs, programs that have had significant wins, particularly in the sport of football," Manuel said when I told him the premise of the article. "We’ve only been in Division I-A for 12 or 13 years. BYU has had a much longer history than we have."
As noted in the article, Manuel said he couldn’t recall specifically how the series got set up, only that he’s known BYU AD Tom Holmoe since Holmoe was the head football coach at Cal (1997-2001).
"I think we talked about the possibility of scheduling some games at a Division I athletic directors association meeting," Manuel said. "Then it came to fruition. As I normally have with Tom, I had discussions about what is going on in the industry, the possibility of playing this game, and it was able to come to fruition. I don’t remember the exact details.
It is a great series for us, playing BYU. Like I said, it has a great tradition and a great history in football. So for us it was a great opportunity to add a series with BYU."
I touched on this in Monday’s blog, but BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said UConn fits the type of opponent the Cougars are looking for, and it located in a part of the country the program has always wanted to visit.
"In our attempt to have regional games, or a game in every region of the country, that made sense to us. Originally, I was after Syracuse, and would loved to have had that as an opener, with some of the church history things built in and going a day early," Mendenhall said. "Anyway, it started with Syracuse, and then we started looking at who else around there. That’s about all I remember. I am not sure when they come back. It might be next year. I haven’t looked that far."
BYU is proud of its football and overall athletic success, and so is UConn, said new coach Bob Diaco, the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator. I asked Diaco during the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday about the difficulties his program faces as a non-Power 5 school.
"I would say that those [are] big picture items, flying at 40,000 feet right now," he said. "We are more boots on the ground right now, and trying to get a football team ready to play BYU.
Specifically as it relates to UConn, I can’t imagine that any sentence that has power in it — I am talking about UConn’s athletic department. You would be hard pressed to find a school that had more athletic department success than UConn a year ago, in 2013-14, with three national championships, multiple conference championships, and many, many appearances deep into championships. Track and field and men’s and women’s soccer having national championships in their recent past. As it relates to UConn, I can’t imagine that there would be an athletic department in the country that would be able to say that they had more success, or been more powerful, when you use the word power, in the country."
Here’s Mendenhall’s answer to basically the same question:
"I think anyone in, I think we are calling it the Group of 5 now — we are not even in the Group of 5. And I would prefer that. Because, really, we are not in the Group of 5. We are alone. But there is some similarity in that those with money — and that is the difference — those with money, even though they are not fiscally responsible in terms of how they are managing their budget — and when less than 25 are in the black, all Division I programs, which makes no sense to me, that money is driving it. And the money can’t be managed that they already have. But that is the differentiator. I am open to any kind of challenge regarding that. However, so now, because of money and the lack of fiscal responsibility to spend it wisely, they all say that we can’t play them? We are trying to play as many as we can — more than we have ever played before in the history of the school. Almost double that of what my predecessors have played at BYU. And I think that is our only way in. So, if the budget is not going to change, and the revenue is not going to change, maybe wins on the scoreboard will change something."
Much like how BYU’s Holmoe said his school will be able to financially stay competitive with the Power 5 schools when it comes to cost-of-attendance stipends and the like, Manuel said UConn is prepared to do the same.
"We are going to look and see where this goes with other schools around the country, and make adjustments that we feel are necessary. But at this moment in time, based on what we know, I believe we can accommodate the adjustments that are made. We will continue to evaluate as we go forward based on the conditions that are put into play. But right now we are in a solid position moving forward," he said.
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