For those who thought conference realignment was safely tucked away in the attic next to grandpa’s steamer trunk comes the news that UConn is splitting from the American Athletic Conference and rejoining the Big East.
A chorus of cheers rose from some Huskies fans who’ve long deemed the deal with the AAC as a lose-lose situation, particularly as the athletics department faces a reported $40 million budget deficit.
While the school will benefit from returning all of its sports to the Big East footprint, perhaps the biggest loser is the football program, which has no home if the Big East move is completed as UConn officials hope.
The Big East doesn’t support football, and the AAC isn’t about to keep UConn as a football-only member.
It’s expected that the AAC would look to add to its membership, most likely in a football-only capacity, to avoid uneven divisional play.
Here are a few suggestions that could help the AAC in its search.
One of the first calls AAC commissioner Mike Aresco should make is to BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe to gauge whether the school would be interested in joining the league in a football-only capacity. Most of the school’s Olympic sports (12) already fall under the umbrella of the West Coast Conference, including men’s and women’s basketball. Football has remained independent since leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2010 but there are some who believe the Cougars could be one of the top choices if another round of conference realignment happens.
Pros: BYU and ESPN are wrapping up an eight-year agreement that includes a select number of football games on its linear TV networks. The deal also was extended to place the Cougars in a select number of postseason bowl games, including the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. By adding a program like BYU, Aresco would be strengthening the league’s position as being a power conference.
Cons: Distance is sure to be a concern, especially in some cases like East Carolina, which is 2,234 miles from Provo, Utah. The conference could offer to help with travel costs but still it’s a long way to go during the season.
Army or Air Force
The league already pulled a major coup when it landed Navy in a football-only capacity in 2015. It’s not too far of a stretch to believe Aresco could test the waters with either of the remaining service academies.
Pros: Both service academies have a strong following, which would be an attractive option for a league like the AAC that is looking to expand its brand. Army is coming off back-to-back double-digit-win seasons for the first time in program history. The Cadets were also ranked for the first time since 1996 and have won three straight bowl games. While Air Force has struggled as of late, the Falcons have been in nine postseason bowl games over the past 12 seasons.
Cons: Army’s last venture in a conference didn’t turn out so well with the Black Knights finishing 9-41 in Conference USA. The school typically loves the freedom an independent schedule provides, and how the conference would handle the Army-Navy matchup would also be a concern. While an annual showdown with Navy is great for Air Force, travel could be a problem with the Falcons located in Colorado.
This one seems unlikely based on the previous history between Boise State and the AAC. The Broncos were all set to join the Big East in 2011 but backed out at the last minute, choosing to instead stay in the Mountain West Conference. The AAC, which grew out of the Big East, eventually sued the school before settling things in 2014.
Pros: Only Alabama and Ohio State have a better winning percentage than Boise State in the Football Bowl Subdivision over the past decade. The Broncos have won six conference championships and have been ranked 100 weeks in the Associated Press Top 25 poll during that same stretch.
Cons: The AAC would have to decide whether to add Boise State as a full member or football-only. Adding the Broncos as a full-member would create more headaches on the travel front. It’s tough to see schools like UCF or USF willing to travel more than 2,600 miles to play their Olympic sports in Boise.
C-USA/MAC/Sun Belt teams
The AAC could decide to reach into a fellow nonautonomous conference for its next school much like it did when it added current members like UCF, USF, Memphis, Houston, Tulsa and Tulane from Conference USA.
Pros: There are plenty of schools to choose, including teams like UAB, Appalachian State or Georgia State that fit nicely into the league’s geographic footprint.
Cons: Does adding any of these schools expand the league’s claim of being a power conference?
It’s unlikely any school from the likes of the Big Ten or ACC would consider leaving a Power 5 conference to the join the AAC but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Pros: Rutgers and Louisville were members of the AAC for a brief time but chose to leave for the Big Ten and ACC, respectively. Landing a school, even one that is near the bottom of a Power 5 conference, would still be a major get for Aresco.
Cons: What incentive is there to leave a Power 5 conference? Big Ten schools receive more money ($54 million) annually than any other power league. The AAC at best is only able to offer a fraction of that even from its new media-rights deal.