Aresco: American belongs in NCAA's top tier
NEWPORT, R.I. -- With increased talk that the NCAA's top football conferences could break off to their own elite division, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said Tuesday that his league deserves a place among the nation's top tier.
"Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future, we expect to be part of it," Aresco said. "The American Athletic Conference belongs in it, and not because we say we do."
The American will have an automatic BCS bid for its champion this year, carried over from the Big East in the model that ends this season. But moving forward, the conference is outside the top five leagues, knowing only that the highest ranked champion from the "group of five" conferences -- the American, the Mountain West, the MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt -- will have a guaranteed spot in the new top-tier "host" bowl games.
Despite that, Aresco detailed his case for the American's inclusion in a new high class: the history of his schools against BCS competition, the size of their markets (four of the top 10 nationally, and all 10 schools in top-50 markets), the size of the schools and their stadiums and the national platform they'll have with a TV contract with ESPN.
"All these measurements separate us and put us above the line and, in my opinion and in the opinion of many, into the power group of conferences," Aresco said. "Many of our schools have had successful athletic programs and successful football programs for decades. We are currently a BCS conference. We have enormous respect for the other five BCS conferences. We look forward to working with them to competing with them. We feel strongly that we belong in the same conversation with them. It will be up to us to continue to demonstrate that."
Aresco was asked if his schools were financially committed to the idea of paying student-athletes, something discussed as an option for a new elite division where athletic programs have the revenue streams to be able to consider such a major change. He said such discussions are still too preliminary in their nature to make decisions on.
He urged caution, saying he is confident the NCAA's top conferences won't break away entirely or make any rash decisions, reminding that not all change ends up being positive in the long term.
"Conference realignment has not always been edifying, as you know," he said. "We see rivalries that have disappeared. We see more travel than we'd like. ... We have to step back and we have to think about what's good for college athletics. And I believe in inclusiveness. I believe that we've gotta do what's good for the greater good of college sports."