clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The American Athletic Conference hasn't learned their lesson from the Big East

When two-thirds of your conference is openly flirting with a competitor with more resources, what do you do? If you're the AAC, the answer is apparently "nothing."

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Histroy has a funny way of repeating itself.

The Catholic 7 basketball schools departed from what is now called the American Athletic Conference in 2014 after the then-Big East tried to expand again in the wake of the Big 10 and Big XII adding teams. The seven schools said adios, citing (correctly) that it was a clear money grab and that their best interests were not being considered.

The Big East then splintered into two conferences: the Big East, a basketball-only conference, and the American, an all-sports conference made up of the remaining teams.

The American has done extremely well despite losing BCS-status and their position as a "Power 6" conference in football. They sport competitive teams in football (Houston and Navy come immediately to mind,) and basketball (UConn, Temple and SMU have all made huge impacts in recent years,) and have widely shut out other Group of Five conferences from sniffing out an at-large spot in the New Year's Six or in the NCAA Tournament.

So, why has the conference done nothing to stop teams from leaving?

On Friday morning, Commissioner Mike Aresco broke his silence on realignment and essentially capitulated, saying that realignment was inevitable and that "schools will leave."

In a time where conference stability is more important than ever, why would a commissioner take a stance that stands directly counter to the conference's well-being?

It could have to do with the hefty $10 million exit fee each team would have to pay up to leave, and with the Big XII repeatedly linked to Cincinnati and Houston, the conference could stand to make a big pay day. And that's only if you think the Big XII expands to 12; they could expand to as many as 14 and if that's the case, the AAC could see as much as $40 million in the coffers.

Many would argue this helps the conference in the long run. It could, to a certain degree. If two teams leave, that leaves 9 full members in basketball and 10 members in football, which means that more money gets distributed between the remaining members, ensuring that the conference grows from within.

That being said, the fact that so many teams want to leave is an extremely bad look. Two-thirds of the conference has already expressed desire to expand, including HoustonCincinnatiUConnMemphisSMU, and even dadgum ECU. UCF, USF and Tulane are also reportedly interested in moving on from the AAC.

UConn might try and move on even if the Big XII doesn't choose them; they were most affected by the Big East split, and have previously expressed disdain for their situation. They've been attached to Big Ten rumors before and were considered Big XII candidates long before Houston ever came into the mix.

It's the Big East all over again.

Say the Big XII takes four teams (highly unlikely as that is). It would be widely assumed they take the biggest name programs, so that would be Houston, Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis. That leaves a league with SMU, ECU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, UCF, USF and Navy (football only.) Not exactly the most attractive league.

Even with only two or three teams taken, the fabric of the AAC would be completely different and would lose major starpower. The AAC would be left with nine or 10 teams in football and nine or eight in basketball and find themselves in the Big XII's current position in as soon as 2018 or 2019.

The AAC could potentially expand, sure. But the choices in the FBS are sparse; the conference would surely pluck from a stripped-down Conference USA or a Sun Belt Conference that might not be ready to make such a big leap. They could promote an FCS team such as James Madison, but the promotion process takes years to complete and that team would need a partner. Regardless, it would mean a watered-down conference with no real cohesion.

But this is ultimately an indictment on the reactionary leadership of the conference. Commissioner Aresco, who also oversaw the collapse of the Big East, is Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns. His inaction could cost the conference major prestige and could eventually lead to the conference's demise.

We'll see what happens when the Big XII announces their intentions sometime in August, but if past history is any indication, it won't be good news for the AAC.