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, speaking at the conference's preseason football media day. "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, Mountain West, Mid-American, 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 in a prospective new highest class: the history of his schools against BCS competition, their market size (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 an ESPN contract.
"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."
TEAM TO BEAT: Louisville was an overwhelming favorite to win the American, getting 28 of 30 first-place votes in the preseason media poll. The other two teams that tied for last year's Big East crown, Cincinnati and Rutgers, took second and third, with the Bearcats getting the other two first-place votes.
And don't think Memphis, picked last in the league, is ready to stop trying to make a name for itself in its new league, even while surrounded by SEC programs.
"We don't have to be the big brand. We can be our own niche," first-year Tigers coach Justin Fuente said. "We don't have to be, to use an example, Coke or Pepsi. We can be Sprite. And I think that's there for us."
THIS AND THAT: The American is likely to have a new record book, which means a few USF contributions to the all-time Big East records could be permanent. QB Matt Grothe is the league's career leader in total offense, and K Delbert Alvarado has the conference's longest field goal at 56 yards. … USF softball standout Sara Nevins, from Pinellas Park, is one of several athletes from other sports pictured on the inside cover of the American's football media guide.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.