In the fall of 2010 I was a senior in high school in upstate New York beginning the exciting process of applying to colleges. I had done months of research, made several campus visits and had compiled a list of everything I wanted from my future alma mater. Being an 18-year-old boy with a love of sports, the number one item situated at the top of my list was a college with well known, successful NCAA division 1 sports teams.
In November of that year I made a visit to the University of Connecticut and got a tour of the campus ending with a stop at Gampel Pavilion. I thought it was a great building and could definitely see my self cheering on the Huskies for the next four years here, but It wasn’t enough. I had toured the entire campus and had fallen in love with almost everything it had to offer, but I wasn’t completely sold.
On the 3.5 hour drive back home, I made my parents make a quick pitstop in East Hartford, Connecticut to see if I could get a quick look at the stadium and maybe even get inside. When we pulled into the parking lot of Rentschler Field, I was blown away.
Upon convincing a friendly security guard to let me in for a quick look at the field, I was sold. Seeing the enormous stadium with the Connecticut Football logo emblazoned across both end-zones, banners advertising the dog pound and informing me that I was deep in the heart of UConn country, and a score board just like the one I had envisioned at my dream school, I was hooked. I knew from that exact moment I was born to be a Husky.
I could already picture it in my mind. The crisp autumn air of an October game day, parking lots full of tailgating and excitement about the days matchup, the roar of the crowd as the Huskies ran up the score on various Big East opponents. To top it all off UConn would go on to win the Big East and make a trip to one of college football’s most prestigious bowl games to play the Oklahoma Sooners that year, I didn’t need anymore convincing. I received my acceptance letter and committed to the University of Connecticut to become a member of the class of 2015.
Fast forward almost six years and we arrive at today. I am a UConn grad who suffered through the worst four years of Husky football since its inception. I witnessed the immediate fall from grace of a program on the rise to almost rock bottom. I watched as the landscape of college sports shifted bringing UConn from a powerhouse in what was once a power conference, to a program on the Titanic as all the life boats are drifting away.
Given the chance to take all this back and choose another school with a more successful football program in a more stable conference would I?
Not a chance. Not even for free tuition.
Some of my best college memories were spent at the Rent. Tailgating with my fraternity, drunkenly singing the fight song on the walk into the stadium, screaming until I lose my voice in the student section watching the boys in blue.
It’s the reason I came to this University and I couldn’t even dream of something better.
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Believe it or not, 35 years ago when UConn became a founding member of the Big East it’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs weren’t an instant success. In 1979 the Men’s Basketball program finished 4th in the Big East and lost in the NIT to Saint Peter’s.
From 1982-1986, the Connecticut Men’s Basketball team would record 4 straight losing seasons, and in the Summer of 1986 UConn hired Jim Calhoun to bring the program to the next level. In 1986-87, Calhoun’s first year, the Huskies went 9-19 bringing the streak of losing seasons to 5. And In the Summer following that year, UConn broke ground on what is known today as the mecca of college basketball, Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.
Throughout all this, what did the people of Connecticut and students of UConn say?
They said that UConn basketball was a joke. They said that the school and state were wasting their money. They said that UConn would never be able to play basketball with the big boys.
In the 1990 “Dream Season” UConn would win the Big East tournament for the first time, and make a run to the NCAA Elite Eight losing to one of the sports blue bloods in Duke University.
This is all starting to sound a little familiar. New Head Coach? Disappointing first season? Winning the Big East? Losing to a blue blood program in a prestigious game? Where have I heard all of this before?
UConn would not go on to win its first national championship until 1999. 13 years after the arrival of Jim Calhoun. Bob Diaco is in year 3.
The University of Connecticut has been playing basketball for over 100 years, and only in the last 25-30 have they shown significant success. Compared to the 13 years they have been playing FBS football. I, like many others in the college football world are impressed. Sure, we have taken a stumble backwards in the last few years and in the current climate of college realignment it has made this mole hill look like a mountain, but this is still a college program on the rise.
Though I have been at Gampel Pavilion for an ESPN College Gameday against Syracuse or any number of other big games, I have also been at Rentschler Field for a game against Michigan. I have stormed the field for a win over undefeated #13 Houston. When comparing situations I choose The Rent 10 times out of 10.
So no, it’s not “time to get over college football.” It’s not UConn’s “Scarlet Letter”
Even though we may be better known for it, you will never convince me that the University of Connecticut is JUST a “basketball school,” and based on the 26,000 screaming fans I saw that night at the Houston game, I bet you won’t convince them it is either.