Kansas and Connecticut, opponents in the South Region second-round game Saturday, are basketball schools complicated by their football teams.
No basketball program has deeper tradition than the Jayhawks, who kept hoops inventor James Naismith on the payroll in the physical-education department for the final 40 years of his life.
No university has combined men’s and women’s basketball achievement like the Huskies, who have cut down more nets in both than any other school since 1999.
Other places love hoops as deeply, but football means KU and UConn deal with mixed emotions.
Top-ranked and NCAA Tournament overall No. 1 seed Kansas currently owns the worst football program among the power-five conferences and one that would struggle in any league, as last season’s opening-game loss to FCS South Dakota State suggested. As he begins his second season, David Beaty seeks his first victory as a head coach.
The KU football program that finished 12-1 in 2007 is 12-50 since 2010.
Connecticut has posted losing records in five straight seasons but hasn’t hit bottom like Kansas and even went to a bowl game after 2015. The Huskies’ real football issue is their conference.
UConn plays in the American Athletic Conference, where the old Big East football schools joined parts of other conferences to form an 11-team league. The non-football schools formed their own conference and maintained the Big East name.
The American is competitive, but it is not a power-five league. That is, its media revenue mostly from TV football deals lags behind the Southeastern, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Kansas’ Big 12 conferences. Some have reported as much as a 45-percent drop in TV income to the league from its Big East football-playing days.
That’s why Connecticut and fellow American members Cincinnati, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Houston and others in different conferences want to make their case in the Big 12 expansion discussion.
The Big 12 doesn’t know if its future will include the current 10 schools or add two for a football championship game.
The conference wants to find more revenue sources, but the round-robin football schedule doesn’t easily spill into a title game. Basketball coaches like the double round-robin. Adding teams would end that scheduling.
It’s fair to say that potential candidates are more certain they want membership in a power conference than the Big 12 is certain it needs to expand.
Three years into the American, UConn basketball hasn’t been affected by the shift from the powerful Big East brand. The Huskies men won the 2014 title, and the women are favored to give the conference its third straight championship.
“As long as I’ve got UConn on my chest, we play in the backyard in dirt,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. “I don’t really care.”
But Ollie, who played at Connecticut in the Big East glory period and coached in the program in its final Big East years, understands that his sport doesn’t drive the business.
“With football and the power five, it’s changed the complexities of the universities and conferences,” he said.
A UConn official summed up the school’s situation in media terms. Tens of millions live between Boston and New York, and not enough care about college football.
UConn gets a big check mark for its strength in the second-most popular men’s sport and most popular women’s sport. The school’s academic reputation is sound. Distance would be an issue for the Big 12. UConn is better situated for the ACC but didn’t join Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in the latest expansion rounds.
The search for a more secure financial future continues at Connecticut. As a power-five conference member, Kansas’ main worry is getting better on the football field.