American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco announced his retirement Thursday.
Aresco will retire at the end of the 2023-24 academic calendar, effectively ending his tenure as the first and only commissioner in AAC history. He was named commissioner of the Big East Conference in 2012 and led the league through its rebrand to the AAC in 2013. Including his one season overseeing the Big East, Aresco served 12 years as the commissioner of the conference.
“It has been the supreme privilege of my long career in sports to have had the opportunity to lead this great conference from its reinvention in 2013, and to represent its outstanding student-athletes, coaches and administrators,” Aresco said in an issued statement. “I am grateful to the Board of Directors for giving me this opportunity to serve. It would take many pages to list this conference’s numerous athletic and academic accomplishments. There have also been some disappointments and difficulties along the way, most notably, the P5-G5 divide, realignment, College Football Playoff access for our deserving teams, and some competitive heartbreak in big games. But these have not affected in any way my enthusiasm in leading this terrific and resilient conference or my optimism for its long-term future. I would like to thank everyone associated with this conference for their significant contributions, and also my friends and colleagues in the college community, for their goodwill and concern for the greater good of the collegiate enterprise.”
Aresco’s tenure as commissioner involved routine appearances in major bowls. Louisville (2012) won the Sugar Bowl in the final year of the Big East and UCF (2013) won the Fiesta Bowl in the initial year of the AAC to round out the BCS era. In the College Football Playoff era, the AAC earned seven New Year’s Six bowl bids — 2015 Houston, 2017 UCF, 2018 UCF, 2019 Memphis, 2020 Cincinnati, 2021 Cincinnati, and 2022 Tulane. In those seven trips to college football’s most prestigious slate of bowls, three AAC teams claimed victories — 2015 Houston, 2017 UCF, and 2022 Tulane.
Through the 2022 season, Aresco’s Big East and AAC tenures saw six AP Top 10 finishes, nine AP Top 15 finishes, and 20 AP Top 25 finishes. In 2021, Cincinnati represented the AAC in the College Football Playoff, representing the conference’s only playoff appearance in the 10-year history of the 4-team event. Of the 10 FBS conferences during the CFP era, the AAC was one of the six to clinch a bid at least once.
During Aresco’s tenure, the conference transformed almost entirely. South Florida and Temple are the only programs to hold status in the 2012 Big East and 2023 AAC. In the early 2010s, the league lost Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten but added East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and UCF from Conference USA. Other realignment moves during Aresco’s tenure involved adding Navy from independent status and losing UConn from AAC membership to independent status.
The AAC was one of the key players in the early 2020s realignment cycle. Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF departed to the Big 12 and the conference responded by adding six CUSA programs — Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA. The conference loses SMU one month after Aresco’s departure and will add Army for the 2024 season to keep the league at 14 teams.
In 2019, the AAC agreed to a 12-year, $1 billion media rights extension with ESPN that will run through the 2031-22 academic year.
Aresco was a strong advocate for the conference and was a member of the panel that advocated for the 12-team College Football Playoff which increases access for more conferences. He will remain commissioner of the league through May 31 before his upcoming retirement.