Mora: "Not being in a conference is absolutely killing us"
UConn's football coach said the conference status is "a real deterrent."
Head coach Jim Mora is not mincing words when it comes to the structure of UConn football and what it will take to succeed in today’s environment.
In his coach’s show on ESPN Radio on Tuesday, Mora said UConn’s conference situation is “a real deterrent” in recruiting, emphatically adding that “not being in a conference is absolutely killing us.”
He pointed out that after this season, only three teams will be independent: UConn, UMass, and Notre Dame, adding that Notre Dame is obviously an exception.
“There are some realities that the people who want this program to be successful have to face,” he stated. “We gotta decide what we wanna be.”
UConn’s head man also discussed the program’s need for more NIL funding, a comment that many of his coaching peers at other schools, including Kentucky, Syracuse, and Charlotte, are making.
“If we don’t get some money into this program, some dark days are ahead,” Mora said.
This came in response to a question about UConn adding Duke to the schedule. The Huskies and Blue Devils agreed to a four-game series which will have the ACC school visiting Rentschler Field in 2025 and 2029 with UConn traveling to Durham, North Carolina in 2026 and 2030.
The two teams met earlier this season in a 41-7 Duke win.
“If we're going to go play those teams and expect to compete with them, then we have to be able to attract athletes that are going to be able to compete with them,” Mora said. “In order to do that, we're gonna need NIL money.”
They don’t just need more NIL funds. Mora continued: “You have to increase their cost of attendance…give them better housing and you have to give them opportunities to earn money. And unfortunately, right now, we don't do much of that. And I'm fearful for this program if that doesn't happen.”
UConn has an on-campus center for student entrepreneurship and dedicated NIL office called Championship Labs. On top of that, independent collectives are the next layer of support that a university community can provide. UConn benefits from at least two such groups: The D’Amelio Collective and Bleeding Blue for Good, which lets athletes make charitable donations from NIL payments.
While these efforts have led to positive results around the athletic department, football success requires more than ingenuity and operational support. It requires a heavy infusion of donor and sponsor cash.
For example, a Utah collective recently secured a Dodge Ram pickup truck for every player on the Utes’ football team. This is the state of the competition for talent.
To his credit, Mora was not decrying the situation, though this is not his first time commenting on this matter. He acknowledged that players deserve to be paid given how much money is being generated. But he made it clear that, in his eyes, UConn needs to improve player compensation in order to keep building.
“If you want to win, you have to pay football players to come to your university,” Mora said. “That is the bottom line.”
Photo: Ian Bethune
So, what to do?
If UConn has to join a conference, begging the ACC for the SMU deal is a start, but that offer almost certainly doesn’t exist. The Power 5 as we know it is dead after this year, and it remains to be seen what the ACC will be by 2036, but UConn can’t stay independent long enough to wait and find out.
Even though we don’t know what the future holds, it seems like the door is closed for new entrants into the P4, or whatever the new top tier is going to be called. With UConn’s football performance over the last decade, it wouldn’t be high on the list for an invite anyway.
Football independence was a creative solution that allowed the Big East move for other sports and kept UConn flexible for the future. It’s fine for getting out of the FBS basement, but any ambition beyond that requires a bit more structure.
Meanwhile, the benefits to being in a conference are actually growing.
Along with bowl ties, conference membership offers a clear path into a New Year’s bowl or even the expanded College Football Playoff. In addition to increased interest from recruits and adding recruiting territory, the schedule consistency and exposure are valuable.
That all, of course, matters to prospective players.
UConn would have to call into the MAC or Sun Belt to consider the Huskies as football-only members. The fit would not be perfect, but it could make sense. For varying reasons, C-USA, the Mountain West, and the AAC won’t work.
UConn could probably throw in a scheduling arrangement for basketball and other sports like soccer and baseball that would be beneficial for the willing conference partner. It also may have to hold hands with UMass or other schools to make this work.
Are the Sun Belt or MAC looking to expand? Would they have any interest in a UConn-UMass package deal? What about UConn-UMass-Temple-Delaware?
Who knows? Weirder things have happened in the last few years.