But the rug was pulled out from under the Huskies on Saturday. Seven Catholic schools are taking their sports somewhere else, as they grew weary of their association with a football conference and were ready to build a new conference.
Standing amid the ruins of the Big East, UConn still holds out hope that the Atlantic Coast Conference will come calling. Until then, the school's athletic future is tied to a collection of mostly unfamiliar colleges from all over the country.
How can UConn survive? The impact of the Big East's evaporation will vary from one sport to another.
The football program has been dealing with the prospect of defections for a year, with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville electing to leave. The events of this week don't affect football, at least not directly.
The women's basketball program operates above the politics of conference realignment. The seven-time NCAA champion is a national brand that derives little if no benefit from its conference affiliate, so the end of the Big East won't damage the program.
The three-time NCAA champion men's basketball team? This was a rough week for coach Kevin Ollie's program. Already smarting from the future losses of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisville, the program was faced with competing in a battered conference. Now traditional foes such as Georgetown and Villanova are leaving.
The conference turmoil puts the UConn men's program, already at a recruiting disadvantage, in jeopardy of losing much more ground.
"Right now UConn, as far as recruiting goes, is in 'no man's land,'" said Paul Biancardi, a veteran coach and ESPN's director of recruiting coverage. "Two basic questions every kid has are, 'What league am I going to play in?' and 'Who is going to coach me?' … Then comes style of play and how he would be utilized, but right now he couldn't answer the first two questions."
When Ollie replaced Jim Calhoun in September, he was signed only through April 4, an "audition" of sorts. Much has been written on that subject. But now, UConn is out recruiting — Ollie and his staff have been traveling the country during the current 10-day break looking at Class of 2014 candidates — without the old Big East brand to sell.
"When UConn was in the Yankee Conference, they were in 'no-man's land' then," Biancardi said. "They didn't have championships, they didn't have swag. They joined the Big East, and they hired a young coach from Northeastern and it took Jim Calhoun how many years to build that brand? … They had a brand, with the Big East, and now it's blown up."
Recently, Calhoun said that the key to building UConn was selling the chance to play in the Big East to recruits from the South and West — including Ollie, who came to UConn from Los Angeles.
"Tradition is part of the equation," Biancardi said. "Right now, the one thing UConn has to sell is its tradition, and who better to sell that tradition than someone who has been part of it?"
"But they have a lot of questions and they don't have any answers right now; everything is in flux. I don't know how a kid can commit until he knows those things."
Once the coaching situation is settled, UConn might have to "schedule up" to help its recruiting. For years, UConn played in a Big East conference that sent as many as 11 teams to the men's NCAA tournament. The old Big East was so strong top-to-bottom that UConn could get to the needed 18 to 20 wins by coming close to .500 in league play, and then collecting 10 wins against a nonconference schedule consisting mostly of mid-major opponents.
Going forward, to position itself better for NCAA selection and seeding, as well as recruiting, UConn will have to adjust its formula. The new conference's RPI-earning potential is not what the old Big East's was, so future UConn schedules will have to include stronger nonconference competition.
Much of the basketball scheduling is done the summer before the season, so there is flexibility to change from year to year. But UConn appearances in tournaments, such as the Paradise Jam this year, are arranged more than one year in advance and, to play teams from power conferences, "home-and-home" contracts are usually required.
This is what makes "scheduling up" complicated. UConn needs to play a certain number of home games, at Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center, which is why teams such as Maryland Eastern Shore or Fordham, opponents this week, appear on the schedule. Mid-majors will come to Connecticut without requiring the Huskies to reciprocate.