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UConn to join Big East early; no other schools 'til 2005-06

Posted: Thursday July 10, 2003 3:39 PM
Updated: Thursday July 10, 2003 9:32 PM

STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Schedule makers for Big East football have begun revising the 2004 matchups to include newest member Connecticut.

The Huskies will become a full-time football member of the conference next year, one year earlier than expected. The league also will not add any other new schools before the 2005 season, conference officials announced Thursday.

"This is a tremendous day for our football program ... to be able to tell our fans and our student athletes and our coaches that we have one more year as an independent and in 2004 we're going to be a BCS school and we're going to be a member of the Big East Conference," UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway said.

The decisions were made after meetings of presidents and athletic directors of the Big East's football playing schools.

With Miami and Virginia Tech off to the Atlantic Coast Conference beginning with the 2004 season, the Big East will have seven football-playing schools -- one short of the required eight needed by the 2005 season to remain a I-A conference.

Each team will play a six-game conference schedule in 2004 that will include three home games, Hathaway said. He said the school began contacting many of their 2004 non-conference opponents on Thursday to inform them of the changes. UConn was scheduled to play several Mid-America teams as well as Florida International in 2004.

"All these contracts contain buyout clauses if need be," Hathaway said. "And we'll begin working with schools in the Big East that need games. It's not a hurdle, just a small challenge we need to work through."

Temple will drop out of the Big East after the 2004 season, leaving the Big East to add two new members to retain its I-A conference status.

"The group reaffirmed its commitment to remain a strong and highly competitive I-A conference," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said Thursday. "We formally moved up the timeline for integrating Connecticut into our schedules as one of the league's full-time playing members for the 2004 season."

Despite the early entry, the Huskies may not share fully in conference money the first year. Most teams don't enter a new conference and get a full share in the first year, Hathaway said. UConn wasn't expected to get a full share in 2005, he said.

"There's usually a phase in of distribution and there's usually an entry fee as well," Hathaway said. "Very rarely if ever do you see a new school come into a league and share fully as past members have."

However, Big East officials have agreed to reconsider UConn's original entrance agreement, Hathaway.

UConn football coach Randy Edsall said the early entry is a boost to his recruiting program, as the Huskies prepare to move into the new $90 million, 40,000-seat Rentschler Field stadium this fall in East Hartford. About 21,000 season tickets have been sold for the inaugural season at the new stadium.

"Now we can tell kids that we are in the Big East Conference as of 2004, we're in a BCS conference and we have a chance to play for a conference championship," he said. "Every student athlete we recruit is going to have a chance to play in the Big East right from the time they come in."

Some Huskies could end their collegiate career chasing a BCS bowl bid.

Edsall, the Huskies' fifth-year coach and architect of the Division I-A upgrade, was unable last season to redshirt quarterback Dan Orlovsky, a homegrown talent from Shelton, because he was forced to play Orlovsky after starting quarterback Ryan Tracey quit.

A redshirt status would have extended Orlovsky's eligibility to 2005. The early entry now gives Orlovsky and his classmates a chance to play in the Big East.

"Being in the Big East, that's something very, very special to him and very special to all the kids that didn't redshirt that first year," Edsall said. "And now having this opportunity is another milestone along the way."

 
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