You are American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco and your league is under siege. The worst case scenario you face could have Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis and UCF or UConn leaving as the Big 12 makes one more expansion move, which could range from 2 to four schools. And if there is a mass exodus, you certainly have to worry about whether Navy will maintain its football only connection with your conference.
You are Aresco and you have a potential problem brewing with USF in basketball and football.
So how’s it going, Mike?
“We’re doing fine,” said Aresco by phone on Friday afternoon before heading to Newport, R.I. for the weekend. “”It’s all part of the business. We have to deal with this and we will. You have to remember, a few years ago we were dealing with a conference (Big East ) which we lost 7 schools (in basketball) didn’t have a name, didn’t have an arena to play our conference tournament and we worked it out.”’
Big East football became the American Athletic Conference in all sports and Aresco put together a league which was more than viable a year ago, with Houston and Temple both gaining national prominence and Navy competing at its highest level in years and had national championship caliber teams in men’s and women’s basketball.
“There are things that are going on and we’re well aware of them,” said Aresco. “”But our focus right now is just being the best we can do and prepare for a season we think has a lot of upside.”
Aresco concedes his league will probably take a hit. But he has reached the point where he does not worry about things he can’t control until he has to deal with them.
Aresco remembers the early days of his tenure when he had a massive coast to coast expansion blue print which included Boise State and San Diego State, a plan which quickly dissolved with a case of buyer’s remorse from the West coast participants. He flirted with schools such as BYU, Air Force and Army. None of them worked out.
This is not his first rodeo, but he knows it might be his last as conference expansion takes one more giant step.
Sitting in the middle of the AAC turmoil is the University of Connecticut.
Play out this scenario if you are a UConn fan. The Big 12 makes its expansion move and adds BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and… Memphis.
If you are a UConn fan, you are now playing in a conference in which the best team in football is gone, and highly regarded national basketball programs such as Memphis and Cincinnati are also gone from your stable of teams in the American Athletic Conference–of which UConn is a member.
You are now playing in a football league where UConn-Central Florida and UConn-Temple are you’re best rivals? You are playing in a basketball conference where Temple is your closest and perhaps most competitive rival? You could stay in the American with those conditions. The American could add UMass as a replacement, which would create a nice rivalry in football and basketball, but is it enough?
Remember the good old days of UConn-Providence, UConn-Georgtown, UConn–Villanova, UConn-St. John’s?
UConn is closing in on a Catch-22 situation. If the Big 12 doesn’t include the Huskies, their best move would be to make an attempt to get back into the Big East. But what about football? Asking for football only membership in the AAC sounds nice, but why would Aresco and his schools permit that? Going into any other conference in football only doesn’t make sense, because UConn without its nationally prominent men’s and women’s basketball programs is a devalued commodity.
The only other option would be to try life as an independent in football. Oh, it could work. UConn could get a schedule filled out, but the parachute of a bowl spot as an independent would virtually disappear, minimizing the incentive to play.
“”That,” said former UConn football coach Randy Edsall, who guided the Huskies to a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2011,”” would be a killer. How could you get anyone to go there? ”
Edsall, like everyone else with UConn ties, doesn’t know what the best option would be if the Big 12 connection did not work out.
Word has it that the Big 12 will send out “letters of interest” to various schools over the next several days, determining their desire to be part of the Big 12. The conference will then pare down the number to either 2 or four schools and issue invitations.