STORRS, Conn. _ The UConn Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved the school's jump to the Big East, clearing the way for an announcement with conference officials at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
"While we all appreciate the AAC," interim board chairman Thomas Ritter said, "the board has made a decision that is best for the athletic (department). At this time I support accepting the Big East's invitation as the better overall fit that in my opinion is best for our student-athletes."
"Make no mistake, we will still be committed to our football program," Ritter continued. "We will have options for football and decide on a pathway for a successful and exciting football program."
Big East schools signed off on UConn as a member Monday and Connecticut attorney general William Tong quickly cleared the move, leaving the Board of Trustees as the sole barrier between the school and a conference that is expected to offer better competition for its sports teams, particularly in men's and women's basketball.
"It's a great day for Connecticut and for the university and for these programs," Tong said Wednesday after university president Susan Herbst signed a contract making the conference change official. "Not just basketball but for all of our sports and for the students and the faculty and the coaches."
UConn will likely pay an exit fee of at least $10 million to the American Athletic Conference, of which it is currently a member. The entrance fee to the Big East is $3.5 million sources told The Courant.
School officials said Wednesday they would not comment on the conference change until after Thursday's press conference, which has been organized by the Big East.
"I promise that (athletic director) Dave (Benedict) and I will talk to you at great length when we can," Herbst said. "We need a little patience for a couple days."
Benedict, men's basketball coach Dan Hurley and women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma were all in attendance Wednesday when Herbst and the board made the Big East move official. Former Huskies forward Rebecca Lobo, now a member of the Board of Trustees, voted in favor of the change over speakerphone. Gov. Ned Lamont, who is president of the board, did not attend, instead chairing a state Bond Commission meeting.
UConn decision to jump conferences creates uncertainty for its football program, given that the Big East does not sponsor football and the AAC is unlikely to allow the Huskies to remain as a football-only member. UConn could explore opportunities in other conferences or play as an independent, at least in the short term. The school is not expected to abandon football altogether or drop its program to the FCS level.
"We have a schedule for 2019 and that is what we have been preparing for," football coach Randy Edsall said in a written statement Wednesday. "All my focus has been on getting this program and facilities back to where we all want it regardless of WHERE WE PLAY OR WHO WE PLAY."
During the public-comment session of the Board of Trustees meeting, a 2015 UConn graduate named Tom McDougall said the move to the Big East would "slit throat" of the Huskies' football program and put the entire athletic department in "conference purgatory."
UConn was a member of the Big East Conference from 1979-2013, before the league changed its name to the AAC and several of its core members broke away to form their own conference under the Big East banner. In the reconstituted Big East, UConn will reunite with former rivals including Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's and Providence.