AAC hopes to chan­nel suc­cess into pres­tige

Com­mis­sioner glad Big 12 ex­pan­sion talk is over

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

On Monday in Dal­las, the Big 12 Con­fer­ence an­nounced that it will not ex­pand. A cou­ple of thou­sand miles away, in the Prov­i­dence, R.I., of­fices of the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence, there was a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief.

AAC com­mis­sioner Mike Aresco has spent the past three months won­der­ing what would hap­pen if the Big12 ex­panded. Ev­ery school in the 12-mem­ber AAC ex­cept Navy and Tulsa has ac­tively lob­bied for in­clu­sion in the Big 12.

Cincin­nati, Con­necti­cut and Hous­ton were con­sid­ered the most likely to leave the Amer­i­can for the Big 12. In the end, Big 12 pres­i­dents and ath­letic di­rec­tors de­cided the con­fer­ence was bet­ter off stand­ing pat at 10 schools.

“I’m just glad it’s over. It’s been a long process that has been tough on ev­ery­one. We needed clo­sure,” Aresco told The Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group on Wed­nes­day.

Big 12 ex­pan­sion was a pub­lic process that fu­eled con­sid­er­able spec­u­la­tion. Ev­ery AAC school be­ing con­sid­ered was dis­sected to de­ter­mine its wor­thi­ness to join a Power Five con­fer­ence.

Aresco said the process, while dis­con­cert­ing, raised the pro­file of the AAC.

“Some­one joked that this was all or­ches­trated by me to gen­er­ate more public­ity. While I cat­e­gor­i­cally deny that, I will say there is a sil­ver lin­ing in ev­ery cloud,” Aresco said.

“I think the sil­ver lin­ing of this sit­u­a­tion is that it shined a light on our schools and the strength of our con­fer­ence. I don’t know how our league could have got­ten this much public­ity, and it was all fa­vor­able. That’s some­thing money can’t buy and we need to cap­i­tal­ize on that.”

Aresco had sev­eral con­tin­gency plans in case the AAC­did lose one or two schools to the Big 12. While the fourth-year com­mis­sioner does not need to carry out those plans, he also does not plan to sit back and re­lax.

“Hav­ing noth­ing hap­pen does not mean you can say we’re fine and take a va­ca­tion,” Aresco said. “We have a lot go­ing for us right now. We have a lot of mo­men­tum and we need to take ad­van­tage of it. We have to con­tinue to im­prove. We’re not there yet. We have work to do.”

Aresco said the fact that so many AAC schools were can­di­dates for Big 12 ex­pan­sion speaks to his con­fer­ence’s strength. He in­tends to use that fact to press his ar­gu­ment that the AAC be­longs on equal terms with At­lantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and South­east­ern con­fer­ences.

“We want all our schools to re­fo­cus on mak­ing the Amer­i­can a Power Six con­fer­ence. We want to re-es­tab­lish that nar­ra­tive, that cam­paign,” Aresco said.

AAC foot­ball pro­grams own 16 vic­to­ries over Power Five teams over the past two sea­sons, in­clud­ing Hous­ton de­feat­ing Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last sea­son. Ad­di­tion­ally, Cen­tral Florida beat Bay­lor in the Fi­esta Bowl three sea­sons ago.

“No one can ar­gue with our com­pet­i­tive suc­cess. We have 16 P-5 wins over the last two sea­sons. We have thrust our­selves onto the na­tional scene in a big way and shown we are re­ally rel­e­vant,” Aresco said. “What I’m hop­ing to do is cre­ate a crit­i­cal mass of opin­ion that the Amer­i­can is a P-6 con­fer­ence.”

To truly be con­sid­ered on par with the cur­rent Power Five, the AAC must com­mand a more lu­cra­tive tele­vi­sion con­tract. Ten AAC mem­bers wanted to jump ship be­cause the Big 12 of­fered each school an ad­di­tional $20 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion per year in rev­enue.

The AAC was form­ing when Aresco signed a tele­vi­sion deal with ESPN that took ef­fect for foot­ball in 2014. That seven-year deal worth $126 mil­lion pales in com­par­i­son to those of the Power Five.

“We lacked the lever­age four years ago. The league was in dis­ar­ray. We weren’t even sure what the mem­ber­ship was,” Aresco said.

In the wake of the spotlight shone by Big 12 ex­pan­sion, Aresco said this might be an ideal time to rene­go­ti­ate with ESPN.

“We’re go­ing to see if we can’t do that. We had thought a good time to rene­go­ti­ate was the sum­mer of 2017. In view of what’s hap­pened, we want to ex­pe­dite that,” he said. “We are a far more valu­able brand than we were be­fore. We have an aw­ful lot to of­fer. An in­vest­ment in the Amer­i­can is go­ing to pay big div­i­dends.”

Navy ath­letic di­rec­tor Chet Glad­chuk ap­plauded Aresco for steer­ing the AAC through this lat­est rough patch.

“What an in­cred­i­ble job Mike Aresco did. Just keep­ing all the schools fo­cused on the is­sues of the con­fer­ence through­out all the dis­trac­tions,” Glad­chuk said while watch­ing foot­ball prac­tice Tues­day night. “All the anx­i­ety, spec­u­la­tion and ab­so­lute un­cer­tainty of the last three months would be dif­fi­cult for any com­mis­sioner to try to deal with. I thought the way Mike man­aged it was re­ally com­mend­able.”

Aresco over­saw the AAC Foot­ball Me­dia Day in early Au­gust, less than a week after news broke about the Big12 re­con­sid­er­ing ex­pan­sion. The com­mis­sioner did not shy away from the sub­ject.

“We faced the ele­phant in the room. We never pre­tended it wasn’t there. We had open di­a­logue with our schools. There were no bruised feel­ings at all. We wanted to main­tain our dig­nity and take the high road,” Aresco said. “Now we need to make sure we are sen­si­tive to the af­ter­math. There is some dis­ap­point­ment.”

Hous­ton, in par­tic­u­lar, was stung by the Big 12 de­ci­sion to not ex­pand. Til­man Fer­titta, chair­man of the Univer­sity of Hous­ton Board of Re­gents, said the school will con­tinue to seek mem­ber­ship in a Power Five con­fer­ence.

“Mike Aresco had to per­form a bal­anc­ing act. He had to re­spect the will of the in­sti­tu­tions that were seek­ing mem­ber­ship in the Big12,” Glad­chuk said. “Alot of those de­ci­sions were be­ing driven by pres­i­dents and trus­tees and not ath­letic di­rec­tors.” Satur­day, 3:30 p.m. TV: CBS Sports Net­work Ra­dio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Mem­phis by 21⁄

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.