“I have no desire to play Boston College. Not for the fact that they are leaving, but how they did it.”
Jim Calhoun, former University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach
Boston College and the University of Connecticut have a shared history in athletics, though little has taken place on the playing field in the past decade.
It started when BC decided to bolt from the Big East to the ACC in 2003, leaving UConn and the rest of the league in its trail. Former Huskies basketball coach Jim Calhoun said he would never schedule another game against the Eagles because of the way in which they left the conference. BC’s administration insisted this was the best business move for the school, and it wasn’t personal in the slightest.
A suit was filed against BC and the other schools that left the Big East for conspiring with the ACC to deplete their former conference. Nevertheless, BC charged onward.
Conference realignment in 2011 made a renewed rivalry possible, when UConn was rumored to be a favorite to receive an invitation to join the ACC. Then inexplicably, the ACC changed its mind. According to a report from the Boston Globe, BC was responsible for blocking the move because, as former Director of Athletics Gene DiFilippo stated, BC “wanted to be the New England team.”
Pittsburgh was invited instead, and the Huskies were left to join the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, home to “renowned powerhouses” Tulane and Tulsa. UConn is not in a bad place athletically, considering championships last year in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and field hockey, but the American can’t hold a candle to the ACC.
So here we are now—UConn is halfway through its inaugural season in the Hockey East, alongside the Eagles for the first time since they were Big East partners. The two teams just wrapped up their season series, with each school winning its home game. BC-UConn games this season have been scrappy, hard-nosed, and a hell of a lot of fun. It brought out the best of each team, a fact readily apparent to anyone in attendance.
It makes you wonder what could have been over the past 10 years.
BC did not have a great basketball team, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell on that November night in the Big Apple.
In front of a national television audience, the Eagles hung tight with the eventual national champion Huskies for the whole game, even getting a chance to win at the buzzer. That 2013 2K Sports Classic semifinal, a two-point loss for the Eagles against the No. 18 Huskies at Madison Square Garden, was the first matchup between the teams in a major sport since the split—and it was one of the best games the series had to offer.
Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan led the Eagles, but Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels rallied the Huskies to victory in the final minutes. It was a classic showdown at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” a back-and-forth battle on a grand stage, indicative of the animosity that had built up over the decade apart.
Following the game, current UConn head coach Kevin Ollie told reporters, “That was like an old BC-UConn rivalry.” Maybe a return to the good ol’ days is just what BC needed.
UConn does not have a great hockey team, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell last Saturday night at Conte Forum.
The Eagles outplayed UConn in the opening minutes, but the troublesome Huskies took advantage of their few opportunities, holding a lead for a majority of the first two periods. Images of UConn’s upset victory in early November undoubtedly flashed through the heads of Superfans, a game in which 8,089 spectators packed the XL Center to watch goaltender Rob Nichols put on a clinic and shut out the Eagles.
This time, Ryan Fitzgerald was too much for the Huskies to handle. His three-goal outburst paced the Eagles en route to their eighth win in 10 games, while the Huskies were sent back to Storrs with a quality game under their belts but no win to show for it.
The environment at Kelley Rink was the best of the season, other than the Boston University game. The stands were full (for the second and third periods, at least) and the student section grew louder with every ring of the sieve cowbell. And the occasional cheers from the noticeable contingent of UConn fans only made BC fans want to drown out their words even more.
It was college hockey at its finest, and it’ll be happening much more often from this point on.
If this admittedly small sample size has shown us anything, it’s that the time is right for BC and UConn to come together again.
The potential in a consistent series between the schools is too good to ignore, especially because BC is lacking a local rival in the ACC. Presently, the closest school to Boston in the ACC is Syracuse, which is over 300 miles away. While DiFilippo might have thought it was a good thing to be all alone in New England, it’s hurting BC Athletics in the end.
Now, there’s obviously the logistical challenge of either scheduling non-conference matchups with UConn or getting it into the ACC. It will likely take a current ACC member to leave or the University of Notre Dame to—by some miracle—join the conference in football. Should that happen, it would make sense to invite the Huskies, despite the current state of the football program—UConn did make a BCS bowl just five years ago.
While UConn deserves to be in the ACC, it is tough to imagine a conference change in the immediate plans for the Huskies, so it seems more likely to start with non-conference scheduling. BC can extend an olive branch to UConn by proposing just that, and hopefully, with Calhoun gone, the Huskies can find it in their hearts to forgive the Eagles.
BC and the UConn have been through the separation, the divorce, and the “seeing other people” phases. Now it’s time to make up.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor