If the American Athletic Conference hasn’t yet convinced you that they wish to not be associated with the likes of the Mountain West Conference and MAC and labeled a Group of Five school by now, then brace yourselves for the coming year. The AAC is all in on sliding a chair up to the adult table in college football with its strategic plan, going so far to refer itself as a Power 6 conference.

When the seismic shifts of realignment in college athletics ripped apart conferences, the remaining football-playing members of the Big East were essentially forced to rebrand under a new banner. With the basketball schools taking the Big East flag with them, the American Athletic Conference was born out of necessity. From the jump, the conference insisted at every opportunity given that it was far more similar to the schools receiving the new-fangled label of Power 5 than it was the newly recognized Group of Five. Commissioner Mike Aresco has always stood by that mantra, even if nobody ever truly believed it.

Why exactly has the AAC felt it deserved the power conference respect that conferences like the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 receive? It may be because, in part, the roots of the conference from the old Big East were worthy of sharing the stage with the ACC and Big Ten, when programs like Miami, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse were in the fold. They’re all now in the ACC. West Virginia also contributed to that success, and they are now in the Big 12. Including the AAC as a power conference based on past success would pretty much be similar to the Phillies signing Ryan Howard to a long-term deal in 2010 because he was an MVP in 2006.

The Strategic Plan: Convince Everyone the AAC is a Power Conference

On Monday, the conference released its strategic plan and referred to itself as a Power 6 conference as if so much was already certain. The push to be considered a power six conference took flight last year with schools wearing a Power 6 decal on their football helmets, and this was just the beginning. The full push to be considered a power conference has been outlined by the conference’s strategic plan showcasing the conference’s bold vision of itself now and moving forward in all sports and introduced the new promotional hashtag for social media, #AMERICANPOW6R, because all gimmicky hashtags must now include a number placed inside a word.

“This plan will support and inform our mission to be and to remain a respected Power 6 Conference whose student-athletes compete at the highest level,” the opening statement from Aresco reads in the conference’s newly-released strategic plan. One page in, and the message is clear. The AAC is going to keep its foot in the doorway blocking them from power conference nobility.

I admire the AAC’s push to be respected as a power conference. I laugh at the insistence they already have that respect. The AAC being a Power 6 Conference is what they now call an alternative fact. The conference has, in fact, had a good number of accomplishments in various sports since officially forming in 2013. UConn’s women’s basketball team has remained a dominant force. The men won a national title. UCF upset Oklahoma in a Fiesta Bowl and Houston took down Florida State in a Peach Bowl. Not bad. Not bad at all, but there is much more to the equation to be considered a Power Conference.

Power 6 is an alternative fact, but should be the goal

The AAC has a whole strategic plan in place already claiming to be a Power 6 Conference, when nobody outside the league’s offices and the membership’s sports information departments has actually recognized it as such.

The AAC has tried everything it can to play with the big conferences. When the power conferences gained autonomy power, the AAC was quick to keep up by pushing to provide many of the same amenities power conferences can provide. Television revenue helps in that regard, but the AAC is lagging behind in that department. After being left untouched by the Big 12 during a threat of expansion last year, the direction of the AAC has shifted toward the future and finding a solution for preventing its members from making a push to leave.

This all comes back to the conference’s media future, which does not look promising in the traditional sense. Aresco is optimistic about the conference’s TV future, as he should be given the conference’s footprint and membership, but any deal struck by the AAC is likely to far well below the rights deals the real power conferences will pull in, even the struggling Big 12. And considering the AAC lost 45 percent of its revenue in 2015, the conference needs a good media deal moving forward in a big way.

The AAC is essentially locked into a tough spot that doesn’t quite pass the bar to ride with the power conferences but puts them fixed at the top of the pecking order among its Group of Five peers. This is not to say the AAC will not eventually be more worthy of comparing on the same level as the real power conferences, but right now the AAC is spinning a narrative nobody should be buying. Having aspirations of being a Power 6 conference is perfectly fine, and I would be concerned if the conference’s leadership was not working to make that a reality. But at this point in time, that is all this Power 6 talk is: an aspiration.

[American Athletic Conference]

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to NBCSports.com. Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.

1 thought on “American Athletic Conference has a Power 6 narrative to sell you

  1. how you gonna throw around “alternative facts” and then come in with the 45% bullshit? of course it lost that revenue – it lost the auto-bid as it transitioned from Big East to AAC.

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