Despite UConn football record 'I think we’re making progress' athletic director says

University of Connecticut athletic director David Benedict takes questions about an NCAA investigation into the school's men's basketball program during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Stoors, Conn. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)

University of Connecticut athletic director David Benedict takes questions about an NCAA investigation into the school's men's basketball program during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Stoors, Conn. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)

Pat Eaton-Robb / AP

Four games into the Jim Mora era, the UConn football program is very much a work in progress.

The Huskies were blown out by Syracuse and Michigan. NC State, ranked 12th in the country, is next on the schedule.

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“You don’t want to get way out in front here because there’s obviously a lot of season that remains and if you look at our schedule, it certainly is front loaded from a competitiveness standpoint,” athletic director David Benedict said. “You don’t want to start to over-analyze where things are at. We’ve got a lot of football that’s still on the schedule. We’ve got games that we certainly believe we’re going to be very competitive in.”

UConn (1-3) returns home to face Fresno State on Oct. 1. After road games at Florida International and Ball State, the Huskies have a run of three consecutive home games: Boston College, UMass, and Liberty.

The season ends at Army on Nov. 19.

So October will be far different than September. Mora’s young team has been battling injuries that have depleted the roster and forced the staff to use inexperienced players against Power Five opponents.

On Tuesday, Mora talked about the emotional toll of losing and how the program is keeping morale high by focusing on small gains amid big losses.

Benedict said Mora’s approach will help build a foundation for a program that has not had a winning season since 2010.

“He’s trying to set and create a standard for these guys so they understand that regardless of what happens on Saturdays, there are things that you have to do Monday through Friday if you want to eventually be competitive and win football games,” Benedict said. “I think you have a team that’s very focused on that.

"Some coaches, some programs talk about one game at a time. Here’s they’re talking about one play at a time. And you just move on. So I think that mentality is very appropriate for us because that’s all we can really control.”

Benedict still feels an elevated level of excitement around the program. The crowd at the Syracuse game, he said, was the most energetic he has seen since arriving at UConn in 2016. There were over 15,000 tickets scanned for the game at Rentschler, although UConn had 25,114 tickets out.

“There’s no doubt it’s been different,” Benedict said. “I think we’re making progress.”

There will be added focus on the crowds at Rentschler, given a recent report that found the 19-year-old facility is in need of $63 million of repairs and improvements. UConn’s attendance has declined in recent years and it may take more wins before fans return at a high rate.

UConn’s lease with the Office of Policy and Management — which owns the facility through the state — expires in June 2023, which is one reason why the Capital Region Development Authority commissioned the assessment of the stadium.

“I think doing a report like that is great,” Benedict said. “What you don’t want to do is find yourself in a position where your facility is falling apart. Because it will wind up costing you a lot more.

“When you have a big facility like that, it’s going to need maintenance. The facility is what it is. But I don’t think if feels like an old run-down facility at all. I’ve been in a lot of stadiums during my career and the facility is in relatively good shape as you look at it. Are there things that we can do? Are there repairs and deferred maintenance things that are just part of managing a big facility like that? Absolutely.”

The legislative session convenes in January. UConn and the CRDA will know ahead of the lease expiring just how much state money is allocated toward the stadium.

Priorities include roof work and technology upgrades. 

But unlike UConn’s basketball teams that play games in both Hartford’s XL Center and Gampel Pavilion on campus, the football team has no other options. 

“It is a really, really nice facility and we’re certainly glad to be there and look forward to hearing what the plans are and how we move forward,” Benedict said.

As the primary tenant at Rentschler, UConn is the revenue engine that keeps the facility operating. The CRDA estimates the venue breaks even if the team if over 20,000 are at the facility because so much is contingent on parking and concession sales.

The number of tickets distributed was well over 20,000 through 2017. CRDA executive director Michael Freimuth said UConn attendance was not a factor in the stadium’s operation budget until just the past few years. 

Can the program generate enough interest to draw more fans?

“Obviously the more crowds we can get, the better all of us will be,” Benedict said. “It’s one of the reasons it’s really important for us to schedule well, to bring crowds out. Obviously we’re going to do everything that we can to support Coach Mora so he can build a program.

"Building something to a competitive level in college football, especially with the schedule that we’re playing, is not an overnight proposition or just a one-year proposition. We need time. But we’re on the right path.”