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American Athletic Conference won’t seek replacement for UConn

Commissioner Mike Aresco says the league will forge ahead with 11 football-playing schools
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco delivers his state-of-the-league address Tuesday in Newport, R.I. (JOEY KNIGHT | Times)
Published Jul. 16

NEWPORT, R.I. ― During a sprawling state-of-the league address Tuesday morning, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco referenced Theodore Roosevelt, Shakespeare and even Moses.

But arguably the speech’s most notable statement was an Aresco original.

“We have no plans at this point to add a member to replace UConn,” he said.

That proclamation, coming after days of meetings with league athletic directors, confirmed what many had speculated in the wake of Connecticut’s recent move to the Big East: The AAC will forge ahead with 11 football-playing schools.

Even if it means abolishing division play.

“I’m all right with it,” USF coach Charlie Strong said, “because we can still play eight conference games and three to four non-conference games.”

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Aresco insisted the AAC remains a strong Power Six conference with 11 teams (a 12th, Wichita State, doesn’t have football), and wouldn’t raid another conference simply “for the sake of adding a team.”

A number of schools ― including Army, Boise State, UAB, Florida Atlantic and BYU ― were mentioned as possible candidates to join the AAC when news of UConn’s departure broke.

“Down the road, if there’s someone interested in us who could enhance our strength and brand, we would consider it,” Aresco told a ballroom full of reporters, players and coaches Tuesday at a Newport waterside resort.

“But I would reiterate what I said in numerous recent media interviews: We’re a powerful conference in both major sports and Olympic sports. We’re going to continue our Power Six campaign with renewed energy and determination.”

Aresco said the exit negotiations continue with UConn, which will play its final football season in the AAC this fall, then likely go independent (the Big East doesn’t include football) for the short term.

But he wouldn’t speculate how the loss of the Huskies ― who represent significant inventory from a men’s and women’s hoops standpoint ― will affect the AAC’s new media-rights deal with ESPN.

“The last thing I want to do is put ESPN on the spot,” he said.

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Aresco did acknowledge that the AAC will seek a waiver of an NCAA guideline that requires leagues with fewer than 12 teams to play a round-robin schedule in order to hold a conference title game. The waiver seems a formality, and Aresco insisted his league will continue holding a football championship contest.

“I’m confident and hopeful that we would be able to get (a waiver) if we wanted one,” Aresco said. “Because why would you force us to add a 12th team and raid another conference if we don’t want to, and we don’t want to upset the college football community.”

Knowing an 11-team league was a strong possibility, Aresco said his office recently began communication with the Big Ten, which had 11 teams (and no division play) for nearly 20 years when Penn State began play in that league in 1993.

A possibility, Aresco noted, is for each AAC team to have two common conference opponents and six rotating opponents annually.

“We’d have to obviously find permanent opponents; clearly you want USF and UCF playing every year just as Ohio State-Michigan have to play every year,” Aresco said. “So we’ll figure all that out if that’s the way we go. We haven’t decided yet.”

The only thing decisive at this point: The AAC is standing pat.

“That’s the message I want to send: We’re a powerful conference even with 11, we really are,” Aresco said.

“We’re very strong in (men’s basketball) as well. ... My goal here is to tamp down any of that speculation. It can sometimes be a real disservice to the college community.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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