Ever since UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston were reported to be leaving the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12, there has been a lot of wild speculation about who the AAC should go after to replace them. It’s clear that the conference needs someone, as their TV contract with ESPN will be devalued at only eight remaining teams. So, standing still at eight teams really isn’t an option, and the dominoes of realignment will fall behind them.
The question has been simply “Who?”
There are a lot of different things to consider. Media markets and how much TV revenue a program is worth are major considerations. Geography does matter, especially to Group of Five schools who need to pay a lot to travel for Olympic sports during the week and often struggle to develop new rivalries. Then, you need to think about replacing who was lost. A school from the Midwest, Florida, and Texas. Do you want three best-of-the-rest type replacements, or do you want to rebrand? That’s before you consider the conference just lost its richest schools that put tons of influence on football and basketball.
Every fanbase of a school in a conference below the AAC, or in a conference often seen as being below the AAC, wants to make their pitch. The truth is, only a small number of teams will move on to the AAC, and many others will have to stay behind. FAU, UAB, UTSA, Marshall, the list goes on from Conference USA. App State, Louisiana, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, and so on from the Sun Belt. You get the idea.
Now, reports from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports are indicating that the AAC is targeting only one school from either the Sun Belt or C-USA: UAB. Instead, most of their energy is being targeted at poaching teams from the Mountain West, starting with Boise State.
In total, the schools named in the report include Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State from the Mountain West. UAB is from C-USA.
Starting with UAB, it should be clear that no school in all of the Group of Five makes more sense to the AAC. First, they’re in Birmingham, which means they fit the conference’s current geographic footprint. Birmingham is also a growing, college football crazy city, making it a good under the radar media market. The program is investing in its facilities and football program, with a new stadium. They’re also winners, frequently at the top of C-USA in recent years. It’s a perfect fit.
Boise State makes a ton of sense to,o but in a slightly different way. For one, Boise is not a great media market...yet. If they were, they’d be in the Big 12. However, the Broncos are a national brand, who have fans around the country. They’re also one of the quintessential underdog football program. They’ve been great for about two decades now, and they know their brand. Besides that, the AAC and Boise State have been flirting longer than Texas and the SEC.
Colorado State hasn’t had recent on-field success, but that’s largely because they let Urban Meyer talk them into hiring Steve Addazio, who players were ecstatic to see fired at Boston College. With that being said, the investment that they’ve made in their program has been phenomenal, including a new stadium that might just be the best in the entire Group of Five.
San Diego State might make even more sense than either Boise State or Colorado State. First, geography. San Diego is a major city, now with no other football team to steal the show from them. Furthermore, being in Southern California, this move would open up a massive recruiting territory for the AAC going forward, which they don’t currently have access to. Sure, you’d lose Ohio, but gain California in all of this. That’s not a bad trade off. Just like UAB and Colorado State, the investment is real here too, as San Diego State is currently building a new stadium for themselves.
Then there is Air Force, an intriguing candidate. Air Force would be brought in to be coupled with Navy, and try to control a large part of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. However, it’s also easy to see Air Force having a lot of the same issues that Navy has had in the AAC, namely the talent gap in conference play is massive. Yes, they’ve been good in the Mountain West, but the AAC has been a more talented conference overall.
These moves all come with their own, individual, benefits. As a rule, though, there is one major concern. These Mountain West schools are going to make travel incredibly difficult over the course of a football season, let alone sports that play mid-week games. So, is this a smart move for all sports, or just football? Maybe not, but maybe that doesn’t matter right now. Maybe the most important thing is saving them money and saving the football side of the conference. Partial memberships for other sports, like what Wichita State currently plays under, may make sense.
Of course, these are all still just rumors at the end of the day. Still, these are based more in reality than a lot of the other guesswork that you see out there. If true, at least from a football perspective, these are some of the best programs available. If true, this means that Mountain West will be scrambling to replace its lost teams as well, and the cycle continues.