There are a few things that you can bet on safely in life and conferences approaching schools way outside their geographical footprint during conference realignment. The latest episode had Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reporting the Big 12 was reportedly pursuing UConn. UConn is a hot commodity now, not only because of its men's basketball title and consistency in its women's basketball program but also due to its football team's resurrection in Jim Mora's first year. The Huskies went 6-7 and made a surprising run to the Myrtle Beach Bowl last season.
However, the football team's resurgence may not be enough for the Big 12's bowl partners to clamor over them if they do join the conference. UConn has played in two bowls since their fun 2010 Fiesta Bowl run and attendance struggled in both.
UConn played in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl against Marshall and drew only 14,326 fans to the football-configured 42,000+ seat Tropicana Field, barely filling a third of the stadium. Last season, 12,023 fans showed up to the Myrtle Beach Bowl which was a rematch of that 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl faceoff. Coastal Carolina's stadium seats 21,000, making the stadium only 57% capacity on that December Monday.
There is room for grace for UConn fans as bowl travel is hard and the American's only northeast bowl partner in 2015, the Military Bowl, passed them for hometown Navy and the Myrtle Beach Bowl is always tough to travel to since it is on a Monday.
The problem of UConn bowl attendance existed before UConn was relegated to the Group of Five's less glamorous bowl games. In January 2011, UConn lost nearly $2 million after its Fiesta Bowl appearance. The Huskies only sold 2771 of its 17,500 ticket allotment, for a total of $2,924,385 in unsold tickets. UConn will undoubtedly go to more prestigious non-New Year's Six bowls as a Big 12 member, but the prestige may not be a good enough selling point for UConn fans as the 2011 Fiesta Bowl shows. Below is a table of the distance from Hartford to all seven of the Big 12's non-New Year's Six Bowl partners:
While bowls are not the “be-all-end-all” of conference realignment, at the very least adding UConn could force the Big 12 to reassess its bowl partners. Maybe the Big 12 pursues a partnership with the Military Bowl or resurrects its relationship with the Pinstripe Bowl. If the Big 12’s bowl lineup remains unchanged as it has since 2014, the league’s bowl partners will likely pass over the Huskies yearly, even when they have nationally relevant seasons.
No one wins if the Big 12's bowl partners continually pass on the Huskies and the Huskies continue to rotate through the same two bowls at the bottom of the conference's bowl hierarchy. Fans and the bowls themselves will become fatigued from the repetitive nature of these appearances. Hopefully, UConn and the Big 12 figure some way to accomodate the Huskies should they join the conference.