It seemed like a done deal. Air Force and Colorado State were taking a long look at the AAC and were expected to leave the Mountain West for the AAC as soon as the first week of October. That is, until reports broke that both schools had taken a look and passed on the option.
Pete Thamel reported, “Air Force and Colorado State will also be staying in the Mountain West. They had been heavily courted and considered the AAC, along with Boise State and San Diego State. All four schools will remain in the Mountain West.”
In other words, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Why not join the AAC? Well, there is a lot of uncertainty involved in joining the AAC right now, including a media deal that is going to be restructured. That means that you don’t know how much money you’ll be making if you commit to joining right now. For teams on the west coast, they need to understand those financials, as the cost of travel would be insane, not just for football but Olympic sports too. In a lot of ways, this isn’t a vote of confidence in the Mountain West, but a vote of no confidence in the AAC.
This news breaks less than two weeks after Mike Aresco signed a contract extension. Part of that extension that wasn’t said out loud was that he had a plan to replace the leaving teams, while maintaining the conference’s status. Now, it appears he’s on to plan b, and that has to make you a bit anxious if you’re associated with the AAC and you’re still stuck at 8 remaining schools.
The first thing to do if you’re the AAC is to go get UAB. The only non-Mountain West member being discussed recently has been the Blazers, and they make perfect sense in terms of their geography, media market, and investment in football. From there, you need to reevaluate who you want to add to the conference.
If you’re the AAC, you need teams who have large fanbases or the ability to grow large fanbases, as this will help to make your media deal as strong as possible. You want schools that invest in football and basketball, or you’re likely to stop going to annual New Year’s Six games and become a 1-bid basketball conference. All of that means a lot less money coming into member schools. You also desperately want schools in your geographic footprint. That means the southeast, as it’s going to cut down on the cost of travel and make budgets much more manageable.
All of that points to C-USA and Sun Belt schools. In particular, it means C-USA and Sun Belt schools with strong football programs, like Appalachian State, UTSA, and Marshall. Having good basketball would be a plus, but if the Mountain West isn’t coming over, the AAC might be better off poaching basketball only member schools from the Atlantic-10.
No matter what, this is plan b, and it better not fail for Mike Aresco. There is already talk the Mountain West should be in talks with SMU and Tulsa. If the Big 12 goes for a second round of realignment, Memphis and SMU, among other AAC schools, are on the table. Act now, or the conference could collapse.