If the Big 12 opts to expand its conference membership, the American figures to be the target for potential candidates. Planning ahead for all scenarios, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is keeping a watchful eye on the situation.
The AAC just increased its membership to 12 football members last fall with the addition of Navy, which led to the introduction of an AAC championship game (Houston knocked off Temple in the inaugural AAC championship game). But the AAC has been full of potential candidates for Big 12 expansion with Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis, Houston, UCF and USF all being linked to some degree of Big 12 expansion discussions and rumors for some time (in addition to independent BYU). If the 10-team Big 12 is going to expand, it would more than likely include at least one member of the AAC, which Aresco is preparing for as any good commissioner would during these realignment years.
Aresco has felt confident with his conference’s current situation, finally feeling a bit of ease and stability in the years after losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville to the ACC, Rutgers to the Big Ten and West Virginia to the Big 12. Not to mention the split of the basketball schools that took the Big East logo and brand with them to the hardcourt. Having learned from experience, it is best for Aresco and the AAC to be ready to respond as swiftly as possible in the event it loses any additional member or members to another conference.
“We have 12 good schools that are nationally known and if we lose one or two we’ll figure it out,” Aresco explained. “It’s not going to be an Earth-shattering thing. It’s not going to be anything like it was three years ago.”
“I think if we lose a school would we add one? In all likelihood we probably would. You don’t want to be 11 in football, but on the other hand you could do it. If we lost two, which would probably be the worst-case scenario … we could stay at 10. With the new legislation, we could easily stay at 10, play a championship game, have 5 team divisions and have an eight-game [conference] schedule. We could do that if we wanted to.”
Cincinnati has been stumping for Big 12 membership and those in Connecticut feel confident they would be included in any Big 12 expansion plan as well. We’ll see how it all plays out. The Big 12 is still at odds internally over whether it should expand. The conference can still hold a conference championship game, if it so desires, without having 12 teams in the conference thanks to updated NCAA legislation that allows for a conference title game to be held without the previous minimum of 12 members. The Big 12 would likely cash in with a new conference championship game, and 10 members to split the money leads to a bigger split than it might with 12 (or 14?) members.
The Big 12 may not need to expand, but the pressure to find any way to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC when it comes to revenue is too much to ignore entirely. Until the Big 12 makes their decisions final, the AAC needs to brace for just about anything.