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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Many Beneficiaries of Dan Hurley’s UConn Career Crisis

  • A UConn collective raised $16,000 in donations in just 24 hours.
  • The entire Big East could benefit financially, too, thanks to upcoming media-rights negotiations and NCAA tournament prize payouts.
Apr 13, 2024; Hartford, CT, USA; UConn Huskies head coach Dan Hurley greets fans as he arrives at the state capitol before the teams victory parade.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Over a chaotic five-day period, UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley considered, and ultimately rejected, a reported six-year, $70 million offer to leave Storrs to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. The news cycle may have been bad for the blood pressure in the UConn basketball community, but it’s been great for their wallets: Hurley’s decision has inadvertently helped his players, his athletic department, and perhaps even the entire Big East Conference cash in.

Minutes after news broke that Hurley would stay, a UConn name, image, and likeness collective called Bleeding Blue for Good posted a similar message: “We need to raise every last dollar we possibly can to keep this train hurtling towards a threepeat,” the organization wrote on X. 

In less than 24 hours, the collective earned $16,000 in grassroots donations, going from less than $1,000 at the beginning of the day Monday to more than $17,000 on Tuesday afternoon, executive director Jared Guy Thomas tells Front Office Sports. The organization sold 25 tickets (priced at $300 each) to its “Repeat Champs” dinner in June, which Hurley will attend. Icing on the cake: One donor offered to sponsor a table for $15,000. The event could total at least $400,000. Thomas says the collective expects thousands more between the auction at the June event and fundraising from “major donors,” who generally provide at least $20,000 each and who the collective has yet to galvanize. 

“The message for us was already, ‘Winning back-to-back championships was amazing, but if you want to go for the three-peat we desperately need your support,’” he says. “I think that message stays the same, but now there’s the simple addition of ‘Dan turned down the Lakers for us. We owe it to [him] and that staff to give them every ounce of NIL support we can muster.’” 

The athletic department also began blasting out a fundraising campaign hoping to capitalize on fans’ celebrations. “NOT GOING ANYWHERE!” the Huskies X account proclaimed shortly after the news broke, blasting out a link to UConn’s athletics foundation. It’s unclear how much the athletic department has earned so far, but if the collective’s success was any indication, the numbers should go up. “Donor cultivation is an ongoing process so figures attributable to Coach Hurley’s decision are not available at this time, but we expect a significant uptick in contributions,” a UConn spokesperson tells FOS

For the Big East as a whole, the decision couldn’t come at a better time. The conference is in the middle of negotiations for a new media-rights deal, and is under plenty of pressure to deliver. The current 12-year, $500 million deal with Fox and CBS contributes to conference distributions of just around $4 million per school each year—tens of millions of dollars less than power conferences receive. Meanwhile, the gap is widening between power conferences and the rest of Division I, as the ability for power schools to potentially start revenue-sharing with players and the potential for media-rights-driven conference realignment looms.

Hurley’s presence alone wouldn’t impact the Big East’s media-rights negotiations, but the team’s success, which could have been impacted by his absence, absolutely matters. The conference’s value comes from its prowess as a basketball powerhouse. UConn, who has won two of the Big East’s four national championships in the last decade, helps generate eyeballs, marketing value, and even better TV windows for the entire conference. So if Hurley had left and the team fell into disarray, the entire conference might have lost one of its main bargaining chips. “Success is a key driver of value and interest in the broadcast marketplace for these rights,” one source says. 

The Big East also earns annual prize payouts depending on how well its teams fare in the men’s tournament—a system colloquially referred to as “NCAA units.” A UConn tournament run—regardless of whether the team wins the championship—has the potential to earn millions of dollars in units for the entire Big East. 

Whether direct or indirect, it’s clear that Hurley’s return has already paid dividends. “UConn already loved Dan Hurley in a way most coaches could never dream of,” Thomas says. “It’s safe to say that his decision to return forever cemented that legacy, and our donors at both the major and grassroots levels want to show him that.”

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