Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Colleges

Commissioner: AAC's profile boosted by Big 12 expansion process

STORRS, Conn. — American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco noted the difference Tuesday.

His conference, which a day before had been facing the potential loss of two or even four of its highest-profile programs to the Big 12, finds itself in a stronger position after the Power Five league decided not to add anyone, he said.

"The silver lining in this, and it wasn't always great over the last six months … is that we got a lot of attention," Aresco said. "The brand has never been better known."

Of the 11 schools interviewed as candidates by the Big 12, seven — USF, UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, Houston, SMU, and Tulane — are members of the AAC. Three other league schools, Temple, Memphis and East Carolina, were dropped as candidates earlier in the process.

Aresco said that kind of exposure helps him make the argument that his league plays at a Power Five level and should eventually be considered part of a Power Six.

"I think we can build on that and build on our 'Power Six' narrative," he said. "Now, we can resume, reinforce and refocus. I think if the perception is there that we are on that level, we have a chance."

Aresco said part of that will be approaching ESPN soon about the possibility of re-opening the American's TV contract. The league is in the midst of a six-year, $126 million deal with ESPN that expires in 2020.

The Big 12, by comparison, has a 13-year, $2.6 billion television contract it signed in 2012.

Aresco said he hopes ESPN will be willing to talk about a new deal before the AAC contract hits the open market in 2019.

"We need a contract that is closer to what the P-5 has than what we have now," he said.

In the meantime, schools such as UConn, which won't see the hoped-for financial windfall from joining an actual Power Five conference, said they will have to do a better job raising money at the institutional level.

UConn athletic director David Benedict said Tuesday that means better ticket sales, fundraising, local media contracts and sponsorship deals.

"The nice thing about today is that we're in control of our own destiny," he said. "We don't have anything that is holding us back from moving forward, because we're not waiting for someone that we don't have any control over to make a decision that really is going to have an impact on our future."

He didn't comment on whether the Huskies are interested in considering other conference options, such as rejoining the Big East for basketball, but said the school is committed to making the American the best conference it can be.

Cincinnati football coach Tommy Tuberville, meanwhile, said he still believes his school will get another shot at the Power Five over the next five or six years.

"This is not the end of the line," he said. "There's going to be huge turnover, there's going to be a realignment, there's going to be things happen."

But Aresco said that while he doesn't have a crystal ball, he believes there will be substantial period of quiet before there is any more talk of conference realignment, and for the American, that's a good thing.

"That will give us a chance to continue building the brand," he said.

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