Coaches of minor sports speak about conference realignment
Published: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 00:12
Coaches Jim Penders, Nancy Stevens and Len Tsantiris have all been a part of the Big East for decades. For Penders and Tsantiris, the baseball and women's soccer coaches, the conference shake-up that has been going on around the country could have more of an effect on them than on Stevens, the field hockey coach.
"I have followed the conference realignment issue with great interest," Stevens said. "However, there will be very little impact on our field hockey program. The seven Big East schools with field hockey programs are all on the East Coast, with the exception of Louisville. None of the schools that have been mentioned as possible additions to the Big East Conference have field hockey programs."
One of the UConn field hockey team's biggest rivals, Syracuse, is heading to the ACC. The Huskies meet the Orange year in and year out in the Big East championship, and although conference crowns won't be on the line, Stevens said UConn will still play Syracuse.
"We will certainly miss Syracuse in the conference, but plan to schedule them each year," Stevens said. "Although we do not play in the ACC, we work hard to schedule an ACC team each year. Last year we played BC and UNC in the regular season. This year we played Virginia and BC. We plan to schedule a number of ACC teams in each upcoming season."
Penders, like Stevens, has helped to build his program. He's been paying attention to conference realignment, but he cares more about UConn than the Big East.
"The realignments are all about money and more money," Penders said. "I will always be a Big East guy. It is what I grew up with, competed in as a player and coach and it is all I know. However, I'm a UConn guy first and foremost, and whatever is best for UConn is what is most important. I've got total confidence in President Herbst and our leadership. We're in good hands."
One issue has been whether changes in the Big East will help or hurt recruiting for some of these programs. With teams like Houston, UCF or SMU as possible additions to the conference, it'll definitely change some things on the baseball side of things.
"We don't really use the conference to recruit as much as we used to," Penders said.
"We haven't really had a rivalry with Pitt, and I'm going to miss Morgantown in April about as much as a colonoscopy. And with all due respect to those programs, with UCF and Houston, the league is a better baseball conference today than it was a couple months ago. The shake up hasn't really affected our recruiting. Most of the guys we're involved with know that we're going to schedule competitively and nationally. I think if we were in the middle or back end of the pack in the conference, it would be more of a detriment.
Penders and UConn are coming off a Big East regular season title. The women's soccer program, although they didn't make the NCAA tournament this season, is one of the best soccer programs in the Big East.
"The Big East has some good teams, we have some weak teams not really helping us," Tsantiris said. "The Big East is all over the place. The ACC is more congested into a strong group."
"The ACC is definitely a strong conference, one of the strongest, I wouldn't mind playing in it," Tsantiris said. "I'm sure if you asked every coach at UConn they'd say the same thing."
As far as whether Penders would rather play baseball in the Big East or ACC, he responded, "No comment."