UConn: Strength From Isolation?

What more can be said about the University of Connecticut’s magnificent run through the annual NCAA basketball championship series of the 21st century? Since the year 2000, the men’s and women’s teams have combined to win a total of ten national championships in fifteen years.

Many commentators have noted that UConn has sustained its track record of success in spite of the challenges of attracting star athletes to its isolated main campus in rural northeastern Connecticut. Even Hartford, the closest city, is approximately thirty miles away from the campus in the so-called “Quiet Corner” of the Nutmeg State.

But Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers and David and Goliath, may have been on to something when he hypothesized that success is often a function of one’s environment, and that so-called “underdogs” can gain tremendous advantages from their disadvantages. It is indeed possible that UConn’s very geographic isolation eliminates the distractions that can interfere with the development of athletic teams.

This phenomenon often emerges in the business world as well. Skype, for instance, emerged from the hinterlands of Estonia to become the world’s leading web based communication system. And second tier cities like Kansas City, Missouri and Provo, Utah are developing into world class technology hubs with the support of Google’s contribution of fiber networks.

So it may not come as any surprise that a college basketball dynasty has now emerged from the cow pastures of Storrs, Connecticut. In fact, the very isolation of the campus may be contributing to the development of the championship teams.

If you were Susan Herbst, the President of the University of Connecticut, would you place more emphasis on the growth of UConn’s centrally located urban campuses in Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury, or on the development of its remote Storrs campus?