Yesterday, after returning from the women’s Final Four in New Orleans, I hustled down to the stage set up in the center of campus to cover the team’s return.
The UConn women's basketball team files onto the stage for their welcome-home rally. Football coach Paul Pasqualoni can be seen in the background behind Shea Ralph (seated, blonde hair) and next to Brianna Banks (standing, blue hat).
Throngs of students and fans crowded the area around the Student Union, cheering and yelling upon seeing the players and coaches pull up in their bus.
But before the festivities got underway, President Susan Herbst pointed out a few people in the crowd there to give their support. One of them? UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni.
As soon as his name was announced, boos resonated through the stands.
That’s reasonably understandable, considering he’s led the team to consecutive 5-7 seasons against weak opponents – a horribly underwhelming performance.
What happened next was one-part hysterical, one-part embarrassing and about eight-parts predictable.
When Herbst said the words, “he’s preparing for a winning season,” the crowd laughed.
No, they didn’t just laugh, they cackled. In fact, a few of my friends among the crowd nearly had tears in their eyes from bellowing so hard.
Frankly, it was a little funny. Pasqualoni’s face quickly went from a small smile to a stern frown of embarrassment and anger, and students joked about the misery of the football program.
But the fact that I could see it coming a mile away – that likely no one but those among the administators were even remotely surprised by the reaction – was the big problem.
UConn football is a joke.
And even if that isn’t the case on the field – the Huskies did just play in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago, and knocked off eventual Sugar Bowl Champion Louisville on the road this season – the perception around the team is horrendous.
To say they’re dismissed as bad might be kind. Pathetic, really, might be more the word to fit the student view of the team.
In an athletic world driven by college football, this is exactly the opposite of what the school needs. Just about anywhere else in the country, football is immensely popular, but here in Connecticut, it is met with skepticism and laughter. Whether it’s deserved or not is another question, but the fact remains that it’s far from ideal.
Honestly, with this in mind, it’s pretty easy to see why the ACC didn’t have UConn in its plans.
It’s not often that colleges rank women’s basketball higher on the totem pole than King Football, but it’s quite clear that is exactly what’s happened at UConn.
And if the old saying, “perception is everything” is true, then UConn football might be less than nothing.