According to several different reports, there are six teams from Conference USA who will be applying to the American Athletic Conference this week. Those schools are UTSA, North Texas, Rice, FAU, Charlotte, and UAB. It’s also being reported that the AAC will accept all six of these schools as members in both football and basketball, at least. That will bring the AAC to 14 schools in both sports as well.
Now, let’s take a second and assume that this report is accurate. Multiple reporters have confirmed it, but after what was widely considered a sure thing where the AAC was supposed to poach from the Mountain West, who knows until the paperwork is official? Let’s also take out any non-football ramifications, as well as the C-USA point of view. Instead, let’s take a look at why these particular schools could be joining the AAC, what they bring to the table, and what it means for the other members and the conference as a whole.
The Schools Reportedly Joining the AAC
Here are the six schools reportedly joining the AAC, and what they individually bring to the table as football programs.
The Roadrunners are obviously one of the best teams in C-USA this season. They’re based in the city of San Antonio, are building a strong fanbase, are making strides in terms of their facilities, and have a coach who has great relationships with high school coaches in Texas. This is a very young program, with tons of potential.
North Texas was a bit of a surprise. They’ve had a few good seasons, but are down on their luck now. They’re also not in a major market in Denton, though Dallas is less than an hour south. This is a school that cares and is located in Texas, so this is likely a move based on geography.
Mike Aresco and the AAC probably aren’t as worried about Rice’s academic standards as they are having a foothold in the city of Houston. Just don’t tell anyone that Rice and Houston aren’t comparable football programs
FAU is going to be looked at as a replacement for UCF who has strong facilities, a nice stadium, and access to recruiting in South Florida. They also have recent success in C-USA, and there is a model to win there.
Charlotte is a young football program, based in a major southern city, who has shown a desire to grow their program. Will Healy, for however long he’s there, is a good coach. The investment is there, and this is the next step forward for them.
UAB is the school everyone knew was coming to the AAC. They’ve also come so extraordinarily far from having the program shut down a few years back. They’re playing in a new stadium now and they’re one of the most consistent programs in C-USA. Add that they’re in one of the best football cities in the South, Birmingham, and this is a great addition.
Is There a Larger Strategy To This Move?
A lot of people are going to notice that the only teams on their way are decidedly southern. In particular, there are three schools from Texas that could be coming to the AAC. That’s likely because of the looming threat of the Mountain West trying to poach a school like SMU from the AAC. This gives SMU incentive to stay and means there is a replacement already in the conference if the Mustangs do leave. Also, remember that the conference headquarters are in Texas now.
What doesn’t make sense is that the media deal was already going to take a hit, but jumping up to 14 teams, while presumably making less money, doesn’t make a ton of sense. You’re just diluting shares at that point, which goes against the southern media market strategy. Maybe you offer further diluted shares to new members, giving larger shares to the eight remaining schools, but that’s just a maybe.
It’s also important to remember that before the season started, the Big 12 was scared that the AAC was trying to poach its schools. Then the AAC was supposed to be raiding the Mountain West. Now, it’s six C-USA schools. This wasn’t the first plan.
Oh, and that “Power 6” campaign is absolutely dead.
The Situation for Current AAC Schools
The current AAC schools, as in the eight schools that won’t be leaving for the Big 12, are in a tough spot. They’re going to be making less money than they did before, playing in a less prestigious conference, and with fewer opportunities going forward. The entire landscape around them is changing and if they don’t make decisions quickly, things can spiral. So, let’s look at this individually.
The Pirates aren’t going to love Charlotte joining the AAC, as that will continue to cut into their recruiting in the North Carolina/Virginia area. However, it’s probably a good thing for the conference as a whole. Now, the best thing to do for ECU is to continuing to build and work to be one of the best teams in this new conference.
The Tigers desperately want to be on their way to the Big 12, but they’ll have to wait a while longer and invest in facilities a bit further. Luckily, for the Tigers, in this newly designed conference they’ll be in good shape if another round of upward realignment ever does come around.
Ever since Navy made it to the AAC, there have been questions about their fit. After all, being a military academy can make it difficult to win against a tougher, more fixed schedule than they used to play. Because of this, there were always rumors that Army or Air Force might be on the AAC shortlist, but that hasn’t materialized. Now, you have to wonder if Navy is weighing the pros and cons to being in the AAC. That’s all speculation, though, and with Navy AD Chet Gladchuk being one of four ADs to be on the AAC expansion committee (along with USF’s Mike Kelly, Memphis’ Lair Veatch, and SMU’s Rick Hart).
Located in Dallas and ranked in the top-25, SMU should be positioned to succeed no matter what conference they’re in. After the disaster that was rebuilding after the death penalty hit. They’d love to move to the Big 12, but there might just not be space. Keep winning and investing in facilities and hope for the best off the field.
Let’s talk about basketball and geography because they matter here. Temple, like UConn, traditionally sees itself as a basketball first school. They have a proud history there, and haven’t invested the way they need to in football. They’re also now looking at massive amounts of travel and expanded travel expenses with every other program being based in the South. It’s not unreasonable for the Owls to step away from the AAC as the decision that’s best for them.
A wise Tulane Twitter account (Fear the Wave) once said, “I am starting to think we never should have left the Southeastern Conference.” That’s probably true, but hindsight really is 20/20. For now, Tulane is a team that deserves better than a collapsing conference. They’re improving, investing in the program, and in one of the best cities in the country. They’re academically strong, even if they’re not historically great at football. There probably just isn’t room for them anywhere other than the AAC, unless the Big 12 wants to get crazy.
Tulsa has largely been overlooked in all of the realignment discussions. They’re clearly not going to be heading to a new conference, and they seem happy where they’re at right now. More schools in Texas, and therefore recruiting trips, could help them a lot too.
In the last two rounds of conference realignment, there is likely no bigger loser than USF. They went from playing in a BCS conference, the Big East, where they had enough influence to block rival UCF from joining. Now, they’re being surpassed by UCF and will be sharing a decidedly worse conference going forward where the only other Florida school is FAU. These are mistakes that fall on their administrators and there are a lot of great fans and writers at USF who saw this coming when the school itself didn’t. That’s unacceptable.