Ever since Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF announced they would be leaving the AAC for the Big 12, the question of when exactly that will happen has hung over everyone’s heads. The conference’s rules state that to leave you must pay $10 million and give 27 months’ notice. However, it seemed clear that the three schools leaving wanted to get out sooner, which was confirmed the last week of April 2022, when the three announced that they intended to join the Big 12 for the 2023-24 academic year.
There was some precedent for this. UConn made the decision in 2019 to go Independent in football and join the Big East in other sports. Their goal was to revitalize basketball. They, however, didn’t want to wait for 27 months to leave, either. This, eventually, led to UConn negotiating a $17 million exit fee. That was $7 million on top of the standard $10 million exit fee.
Earlier in the Spring of 2022, the Houston Chronicle reported the AAC was seeking $35 million from each of the three AAC schools leaving in additional exit fees to leave for 2023-24. Now, the numbers being reported sound more official. Brett McMurphy of Action Network is reporting that they’re negotiating a fee of between $17 and $20 million to exit early. That number would be a total including the $10 million exit fee.
In other words, the standard set by UConn leaving was highly impactful on this decision. While the AAC may have argued that the teams leaving are more valuable than UConn, a precedent was set for the cost of a team leaving the conference. Compared to the $35 million number being thrown around, it feels like a loss for the conference commissioner’s office.
This will put the Big 12 at 14 schools for 2023, while the AAC will fall down to only eight schools in football. However, the AAC does have six C-USA schools scheduled to join the conference at some point. An arrival date is not set in stone, but the expectation has been those teams enter the conference for 2023-24, swiftly replacing the departing schools. If that does happen, the AAC will also be at 14 schools in football.
Meanwhile, the six C-USA schools (Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA) still need to negotiate their departure from C-USA. They already are foregoing two years of C-USA revenue and must negotiate a buyout on top of that. Given the mess that Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss went through to leave for the Sun Belt, nothing is set in stone.
The buyout money in these situations is incredibly important. It gets distributed among the remaining member schools and can go towards numerous improvements to the programs. It’s important, also, to remember that ESPN may renegotiate the AAC’s media deal based on the changes in conference membership. This leaves the conference with an uncertain financial future.
The biggest winner on the day remains the lawyers, whose billable hours remain undefeated.