From left, David Lehman, Radenka Maric, Matthew McCoe and Gov. Ned Lamont. MARK PAZNIOKAS

UConn’s new president, Radenka Maric, is getting a pass, at least publicly, on what was widely viewed at the state Capitol as a political gaffe — a threat to end playing basketball games at the XL Center in downtown Hartford.

Unhappy with the funding for UConn in Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal, she suggested in an interview with student reporters that maybe a tighter budget would keep the Huskies from playing in Hartford, which costs the school money.

“So, I was telling the governor, if there is a cut that I have to do, I’m not going to put the cuts on academic quality, I will do the cuts and make the decision to pull out of the XL,” she told the students.

She might have consulted with a trustee named Tom Ritter about the political value in keeping on good terms with lawmakers who like watching UConn play two blocks from the Capitol.

Tom, who lives in Hartford, goes to a lot of games, sometimes with his son, Matt, the speaker of the House of Representatives. 

Matt Ritter flatly told reporters Thursday that the president of UConn was wrong, that the Huskies had a commitment to playing at the XL.

“We all, me included, make mistakes sometimes. And I think those comments maybe are not —”

Ritter paused for the right words, then changed direction.

“I did talk to the athletic director yesterday, funny enough.”

Funny enough.

“And I know UConn reiterated its commitment to play at the XL Center, which we are going to renovate,” Ritter said. “We are going to make that a facility that can really be more of a modern facility. We’ve had 16,000 people for a woman’s game.”

Ritter mentioned he saw his friend Toni Walker at the South Carolina game on Sunday. Walker is the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee (you know, the one that sets the spending side of the budget.)

“Is UConn going to play in Hartford? You betcha,” Ritter said. “And do we agree with the president, though, that we’ve got to help them with this budget? You betcha.”

“I got more emails about that than anything yesterday, ironically enough,” Ritter said. “But all is forgiven. We move on.”

“She’s new,” Walker said. 

“I’ll be there on the 21st at the St. John’s woman’s game,” Ritter said.

Maybe the president will, too.


Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.