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AAC schools continue Big 12 push

Big 12 Bowlsby Football

FILE - In this Monday, July 18, 2016 file photo, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addresses attendees during Big 12 media day in Dallas. Bowlsby has referred to what the Big 12 is about to step into as it moves toward expansion as a seller’s market. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

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Staff, wire reports

Friday, July 22, 2016

STORRS, Conn. — Connecticut’s new athletic director said Friday he is waiting to hear from the Big 12 about its interest level in the school before reaching out with an official pitch to join the conference.

The Big 12’s school presidents on Tuesday moved closer to expansion, directing Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin evaluating schools interested in joining. UConn’s David Benedict, in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press on Friday, acknowledged the Huskies are interested in being evaluated. At least a handful of American Athletic Conference are in similar situations, including East Carolina.

“At this point in time, the Power Five conferences certainly are looked to as the most competitive conferences,” he said. “They derive the most money from their multi-media agreements, their television agreements. Therefore, certainly we aspire to be in those conferences and compete at that level.”

East Carolina made its pitch public Thursday afternoon when athletic director Jeff Compher put out a statement saying that “East Carolina deserves to be in the Big 12 as we can deliver the entire state of North Carolina.” On Pirate Radio 1250, he said, “I got a little tired of hearing of all the accolades of all these other schools and wanted to speak up for ECU.”

The Big 12 discussion has mainly centered around other American schools such as Houston, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis.

“Everybody is jockeying for position,” Benedict said. “Part of my role and responsibility is making sure we’re looking at all options, keeping all options open to make sure we put ourselves as a university and an athletics program in the best possible position to compete.”

On Thursday, Houston received public endorsements from University of Texas president Greg Fenves and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. On social media, Abbott said: “Big 12 expansion is a non-starter unless it includes University of Houston.”

The AAC football media event is scheduled to start Aug. 1 in Newport, R.I.

Benedict, who was hired in March to succeed Warde Manuel after he left for Michigan, said of all possible candidates, UConn is the most similar to the Power Five schools with its $71 million athletic budget.

Since 1995, the Huskies have won 11 women’s national basketball championships, four men’s basketball titles, two in field hockey and one in men’s soccer.

But Benedict said he has no plans to pick up the phone and call Bowlsby or head to Texas with a PowerPoint presentation. He said it’s his understanding that the Big 12 will reach out to those it knows have an interest.

“I don’t think circumventing that process is the way to go,” he said. “But I don’t think there is a question as to whether or not the Big 12 is aware that we would have an interest if they are interested in us.”

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