NEWPORT, R.I.–The chatter this week at the American Athletic Conference football media day was about defending champion Houston and about schools such as Cincinnati who could be contenders. It was about a new coach at UCF in Scott Frost, who hopess to revive the program.

But a school that wasn’t talked about much was Navy and its role as a power that went far beyond what the Midshipman will do on the football field.

If the AAC takes a hit–and it could be as many as 4 schools–the conference needs Navy to re-affirm its commitment. Which is one of the reasons why AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is practically joined at the hip these days with Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk.

“”Chet and I are talking all the time,” said Aresco, who knows he must keep Navy happy. “”He is very much involved in what we are doing.”

The bottom line is simple for Aresco. If the AAC loses a Houston or a Cincinnati or a UCF or a UConn, it can make moves to replace those schools. But if it loses those schools AND Navy, the AAC loses the school with the highest national profile.

Navy is a football only member. It didn’t have to join the AAC. Like Army, it could have survived comfortably as a football independent.

Navy has enjoyed its stay in the AAC. It likes playing UConn and Temple and Cincinnati and Houston, while having the freedom, with 4 other games, to play schools such as Notre Dame and Air Force and, of course, Army.

But if there are mass defections, Navy might ask itself, is it worth it to be part of a watered down conference?

Which is why Aresco is ready to give Navy veto power on any potential new member. The AAC needs Navy more than Navy needs the AAC.

So as events unfold involving the AAC in the next few weeks, keep a close eye on Mike Aresco, but don’t be surprised to see Navy and Chet Gladchuk as part of the landscape.