The American Athletic Conference settles on a handful of expansion candidates who will likely kick off the next round of Group-Five realignment, multiple sources told CBS Sports. The timing of this next round could be affected if Texas and Oklahoma attempt to make an early entry into the SEC.
In response to the recent Big 12 raid in Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, the AAC has focused on recruiting a group of schools including Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and UAB, according to reports. sources at CBS Sports. UAB, a member of Conference USA, is the only non-Mountain West team on this shortlist.
This suggests that AAC commissioner Mike Aresco could look primarily to the West in search of equal TV value for the three awards he lost to the Big 12.
Boise State and UAB were the most talked about among the five candidates for the expansion. The inclusion of some or all of the aforementioned four Mountain West candidates could destabilize this league to the point that the AAC would clearly remain the first conference of the Group of Five.
It is believed that the AAC will grow by at least four teams to reach 12 members. There were only 11 before departures from Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, which will come in 2023.
UAB is in a college football hotbed (Birmingham, Alabama) with a new pitch (Protective Stadium, October 2 vs. Liberty). The AAC is selling Boise State on the basis of the potential to be the most powerful program in the league, one that could chase a playoff spot every year based on the proposed 12-team playoff structure.
The AAC has won five of the seven automatic places for New Years at the Six Bowl in the seven-year history of college football playoffs.
What emerges is a showdown for the best brands available at the Group of Five level. Presented with the possibility that an expanded AAC could monopolize a Group of Five playoff spot as part of an ongoing realignment, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson held his ground.
“I would just say that the same argument could be made if [those teams] stay in the Mountain West Conference, ”he said.
There could be a standoff over Boise State, which is desirable beyond the Group of Five. CBS Sports reported on Friday that Boise State and Memphis would be the main targets for the Big 12 if the league expands to 14. Several Big 12 sources have privately and publicly said the league may not be done expanding.
“Anyone with Big 12 aspirations [might say], ‘Why would I go anywhere but wait a few years and wait for the Big 12 to grow again?’ “Said a Group of Five source involved in the realignment process.
The Big 12 leaders are also keeping a close eye on the Pac-12, which is negotiating a new televised deal in 2024 when its current deal with Fox and ESPN expires. If the Pac-12 media rights revenues approach those of the Big 12 at this time, there is a feeling within the Big 12 that some Pac-12 schools might be interested in joining.
For now, if the AAC can’t get their top picks listed above, an additional 10-12 squad would be considered, sources said. Teams under review include Conference USA’s FAU and UTSA. Both are seen by some AAC officials as having the potential to become the new UCF – emerging programs in a large, crazy football market that could cause a national sensation under the right conditions.
While this list of prime candidates may grow smaller or longer depending on the day, the realignment below the Power Five level remains in the waiting stage due to the situation in Texas and Oklahoma. More certainty about Texas and Oklahoma’s migration to the SEC is not expected.
As Big 12 sources publicly state that they will maintain the programs until the term of their current media rights contract (four more years with Fox and ESPN), it is suspected that the two will find a way out. come out before the 2025 season. This could affect everything from conference lineup to league pricing in the media market.
The Big 12 have announced that BYU will enter the league in 2023, while Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF will enter no later than July 1, 2024.
As such, the AAC should go to any further expansions first, as it has lost three valuable coins and now only has eight members. If he loses two more members, the AAC’s automatic qualifying status for the NCAA tournament could be affected. Sources also told CBS Sports that ESPN may rework their media rights deal with the AAC at a lower price due to a membership roster clause in their contract.
Sources say the clause could be activated if the AAC lost UConn, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. UConn left the AAC entirely in 2020, becoming an independent in football while joining the Big East for basketball and other sports.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco is not worried about a reshuffle of the deal, people familiar with the talks told CBS Sports. Aresco told voters he hopes the value of the conference’s media rights will stay the same as it was before Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF left for the Big 12. AAC schools receive roughly $ 7 million. dollars per year under an agreement signed in 2019 with ESPN.
“My advice [is], until you know what you are joining, are you really sure you want to take a step? Said Karl Benson, who once oversaw the largest FBS league in existence as commissioner of the 16-team WAC in the late 1990s. “Until you know what’s left of the American, in what are you getting into? “
- Aviation: The service academy is a partner of the Navy, already a member of the AAC.
- Boise State: Football excellence established. Possible travel partner for other western candidates. You may have to choose between AAC now or Big 12 down the line.
- Colorado State: One of the best new stadiums in the country. The football program is in trouble and CSU is not exactly delivering to the Denver market.
- State of San Diego: New stadium, beautiful city, West Coast talent. But if the AAC remains (somewhat) intact, why would SDSU leave the best League of the Group of Five remaining? His only other option would be a Big 12 that wants to expand beyond 14. Travel would be a problem.
- UAB: Birmingham City Coach Bill Clark and Sporting Director Mark Ingram deserve immense credit for making the program attractive since it closed in 2014.
- FAU: A Sunshine State replacement for UCF. Lane Kiffin showed the Owls’ potential by winning two conference titles in three years.
- UTSA: A rising program in a large market that would theoretically replace Houston in the state of Texas.
- West Mountain: North Texas and Tulsa are under consideration by MWC. This could be a proactive decision if the AAC takes on MWC teams. However, depending on the direction of the realignment, Mountain West itself could become the dominant conference of the Group of Five if it remains intact, as there may not be any combination of schools for AAC that could compensate for the losses from Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
- United States Conference: Former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany as a consultant. Even in retirement, Delany remains one of the most powerful people in varsity athletics.
- Total realignment: The creation of geography-based leagues – combining teams from the AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt – was discussed given the obvious redundancies between conferences. The AAC and C-USA each have schools in Texas and Florida. C-USA and the Sun Belt each have teams in Texas, Alabama and North Carolina. The AAC and C-USA have teams in Texas, Florida and North Carolina.
Why not reduce travel costs with a geographic distribution that looks like this?
East (10): Appalachian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, FAU, CRF, Marshall, Navy, Old Dominion, South Florida
South (10): Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Temple, Troy, UAB, Western Kentucky
South-West (12): State of Arkansas, Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Rice, SMU, State of Texas, Tulane, Tulsa, UTEP, UTSA