By now, you know that the AAC is losing three teams; UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston. They’re off to the Big 12, and while the details are still foggy, they’re gone. This is a conference that played its first year in 2013, and is losing conference champions from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020. These are three teams in arguably the three biggest media markets, and three key recruiting regions. Those three teams leaving hold three of the top four winning percentages in conference history.
Things aren’t good for the American.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has, of course, tried to spin things. He claims that the three teams leaving aren’t dynasties (debatable), and he wondered about people making fun of his Power Six claims, yet a supposed Power Five conference had to poach from the AAC (not really the point anymore).
More importantly than any of that, though, Aresco said, “We’ll add schools and we’ll replenish and reconstitute.” In other words, the AAC is on the hunt to add more teams through realignment. This is the best way to maintain their current media deal with ESPN, which has a clause saying that the deal can be renegotiated if the conference’s membership goes through a major change. This would constitute that, and the AAC is going to try to add schools for the purpose of getting more value for members in that media deal while maintaining the conference’s identity.
So, what does that actually look like?
It starts with what current membership looks like. The AAC has to predominant (though not entirely mandatory) geographic points. Their schools are usually southern and their schools are usually in cities. This is typically seen as the best way to tap into media markets that are as large as possible for schools. Yes, Temple isn’t southern, and no ECU isn’t in a city, but these are general exceptions to the rule.
This is also a football first conference. So, an investment in the football program, with strong facilities and recent success is also going to be important. After all, if the AAC wants to maintain its reputation they’re going to have to try and keep up while fending off the Mountain West and Sun Belt. However, it should be noted that the AAC is losing a lot of its firepower in basketball too, which is going to be a major blow to the conference going forward in its own right.
The most important thing for the AAC is that these teams have large enough fanbases or a large enough opportunity to grow a fanbase that they can salvage their media deal. Perception does matter, but the real influence and power as a conference comes from how much money you make from that media deal.
So, which teams actually fit this description of needs?
Birmingham is one of the great college football cities in the country, which gives UAB a great media foothold. Add their recent on-field success and investments in facilities and no team makes more sense for the AAC than UAB.
Make no mistake, App State deserves a long look from the AAC. Their on-field success is almost unmatched outside of the AAC, and despite their rural location, they have a large fanbase.
If you’re directly aiming to replace UCF, why not pick FAU? This South Florida team has a nice on-campus stadium, recent success, and great access to recruits for the conference.
San Diego State
If the AAC isn’t tied to regional schools, San Diego State makes a ton of sense. They offer access to Southern California, they have a new stadium, and they’re in one of the countries largest media markets.
Rice probably won’t be in play to replace Houston, but UTSA makes some sense. They are also in a Texas city, San Antonio, but instead of bringing a ton of history, they’re a program on the rise. They could be a wild card for the conference.
The Chanticleers are a very young program, and they’ve only just now found success. However, Coastal Carolina showed that they’re a media darling who is receiving investments in their program’s facilities.
Undeniably, Georgia State’s on-field product has been a disaster. Still, their location in Atlanta is almost too perfect not to even take a look at the Panthers.
At the end of the day, this is all guesswork. There is no actual proof that any of these teams are interested in the AAC, or vice versa. These are simply a handful of the teams who make some sense to fit the gaps being left in the AAC.