As the American Athletic Conference kicked off football media availability Thursday, commissioner Mike Aresco addressed a laundry list of concerns. At the top was realignment, which was front-and-center after the three schools leaving next season for the Big 12 — Houston, Cincinnati and UCF — were 1,2,3 in the preseason poll.
“We can lament realignment all we want, but we must deal with it,” Aresco said. “It’s a hard, unforgiving business where trust is shattered routinely, feelings are hurt, relationships can end, friendships can dissolve and schools are often blindsided and left scrambling.”
Aresco knows firsthand what realignment can do to a league, as the AAC spent the past decade dealing with its impact.
It all began with the defections of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC, which had a cascading effect as 22 schools changed conference membership. The SEC and Big Ten expanded their ranks to 16 teams in anticipation of huge media rights deals.
Even the AAC is expanding, adding UAB, FAU, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice and UTSA to its membership in 2023.
“The realignment we have seen is driven by money and competitive positioning, which are two sides of the same coin,” said Aresco. “You don’t hear as much about student-athlete well-being, loyalty to school, or goals that do not include conferences seeking the last dollar.
“The conversations at media days this year, I’ve noticed it shifted almost entirely to marketing, branding and further realignment. Student-athlete well-being is rarely mentioned.”
Aresco called for a more equitable system to help combat moving away from amateurism through NCAA governance and the College Football Playoff.
On the playoff front, he voiced disappointment that the management group couldn’t agree on the proposed 12-team model that would have expanded the current four-team model starting in 2024. The plan, which called for six automatic qualifiers and six at-large teams, stalled after some conference commissioners failed to gain unanimous approval.
Chicago Tribune Sports
A daily sports newsletter delivered to your inbox for your morning commute.
The group, comprised of the 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, plans to meet again in August with hopes of coming up with a new proposal that would go into effect at the end of the playoff contract in 2025-26.
“It was shortsighted not to do so,” said Aresco. “It deprived hundreds of players having the opportunity to participate in an expanded playoff in 2024 and 2025.”
Aresco isn’t in favor of proposals that would eliminate conference championships as a requirement, choosing instead to fill the postseason model with at-larges.
Even as the college landscape continues to shift with no sign of slowing down, Aresco believes now is the time for schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision to govern themselves separate from the NCAA.
“It’s reasonable to believe that FBS football should be governed by committees comprised solely of FBS representatives,” he said. “The FBS commissioners should have a major role in running FBS football. Football is clearly a separate and distinct entity within the NCAA and could benefit from its own governance structure.
“It may make sense to streamline the governance process through FBS self-governance. This will be an ongoing debate in which our conference will participate.”