Photo via The Associated Press

Recently, the American Athletic Conference has become more and more a part of the national conversation. The AAC commissioner sees this as a great thing, as he wants to be seen as a “Power Six” conference.

An unfortunate aspect of their consideration as a conference is that football will be the major deciding factor here, but of course, if the AAC is included in a new “Power 6” metric other sports will be included.

Traditionally there are five power conferences: the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and the Pac-12. Many college football fans and the programs of the AAC itself hope to rally behind the younger conference and establish it as a power conference.

The major problem is the balancing game that the AAC knows it’s playing. If the teams get too good for the conference, they will likely jump ship to a P5 conference if given the chance. But if the teams do not continue to improve and generate more revenue, then the conference will never be considered as a new power conference.

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Commissioner Mike Aresco is heading efforts to gain the conference more recognition. Photo via Cloe Poisson / Hartford Courant

Last year, the Big 12 considered adding some AAC teams to their ranks, but ultimately passed. Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was more than relieved—even though many perceived insult in the Big 12’s decision—when he realized he wasn’t losing his best teams.

With the AAC teams locked in (for now), their most important task is elevating themselves in the eyes of their peers and “earning” placement among the power conference teams. The two most important ways of achieving this, wins and money.

Is the AAC winning enough games?

The AAC makes a compelling case to be included among the power conferences when one looks at the recent upward trends of their teams’ performances. As the AAC is comprised of younger teams with fewer resources, they cannot consistently have top 10 teams, but this will continue to change as the conference fields more and more impressive teams each year.

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Houston upset Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl, shocking the college football world. Photo via The Associated Press

Let’s consider 2015, a year in which signified the beginning of the AAC’s possible breakthrough. Houston spent the entire year climbing in the rankings, first breaking through in Week 6 and continuing until it was ranked No. 8 in Week 15.

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The Cougars beat all three of their P5 opponents: Vanderbilt, Louisville, and Florida State. They beat FSU in the Peach Bowl when FSU was ranked No. 9 in the nation and their only loss was against Connecticut.

Usually, around now the argument is made that they had an easy schedule and this isn’t an accurate representation of a truly powerful team, but this was not the case in 2015.

Temple was ranked for the second half of the season, and ended their season at 10-4. They had an outstanding win against Penn State, as well as a narrow loss to Notre Dame.

Navy ended the year ranked at No. 18 after an 11-2 season with a great win against Pitt in the Military Bowl.

Memphis hovered around the middle of the rankings midseason in 2015 and got up to No. 15, ultimately ending the season at 9-4 and losing to Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl.

Was this a one-off year?

Did these teams drop off the face of the earth after 2015? No, and some other teams began performing just as well.

Memphis ended the season at 8-5 with a P5 win over Kansas.

Navy enjoyed a successful 9-5 season while hovering around the rankings and entering them for four of the weeks.

Temple had narrow losses to both Wake Forest and Penn State, ending the season at 10-4 having been ranked during the season at least once. Houston ended the season at 9-4 with wins over San Diego State, Louisville once again, and the Oklahoma Sooners.

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USF quarterback Quinton Flowers led the charge for the Bulls in 2016, and has helped the program gain national recognition. Photo via Andy Jones / TBO Staff

The USF Bulls had a breakout season, going 11-2 with a high-profile win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. They ended the season ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll.

Tulsa also ended its season positively, with a 10-4 record and hopes of cracking the rankings in 2017.

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Navy, Houston, Tulsa, USF, and Temple are all expected to have impressive seasons next year as well. In the last few years, five of these AAC teams have enjoyed being ranked at some point.

In 2016, seven of the Pac-12 teams were ranked at some point, with five of them ending the season ranked. The Big Ten hosted six ranked teams as well. The Big 12 only had four teams that held rankings in 2016, and TCU dropped out early and ended their season at 6-7.

It is clear that the AAC deserves consideration. They’ve been winning games against P5 opponents consistently and have been ranked. USF is already being predicted as an outlier for the New Year’s Six bowls.

If the conference can continue this trend of winning—and there is no indication that they won’t—we are doing them a disservice by continually discounting their achievements and refusing them higher status as a conference.

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The AAC released their plan to become a “POW6R” conference earlier this year. Photo via TheAmerican.org

Is there enough money in the conference? 

In a perfect world, the amount of money the teams could put into the industry wouldn’t have to matter for consideration, and the article would end here. Unfortunately, revenue plays a considerable role in gaining access to the P5 group.

The AAC released a detailed and ambitious plan to become a P6 conference. The five-pillar plan includes several discussions on revenue, marketing, and more.

“Pillar 4” is entitled “Branding, Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations” and Pillar 5 is entitled “Revenue Generation.” Read the plan for a more detailed view on how the conference will attain and maintain the finances and revenue of a P5 team.

In short, they have been making impressive steps in recent years with media partnerships, stadium renovations, and pumping more money into their football teams. They aren’t there yet and they know it.

If they can take the steps outlined in the plan, then the AAC will look much better for consideration to be in the exclusive P5 group.

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Two possible outcomes 

The AAC starting to look more and more desperate, trying to sit with the cool P5 kids at lunch. There are two possible outcomes for the conference: gaining admittance to the P5 is the obvious favored choice as it has the teams, the potential, and the drive to do so.

The other outcome is detrimental to the AAC. The better teams in the AAC keep trying to gain admittance to the P5 conferences, and they start biting. The AAC loses its best teams and becomes much like the rest of the Group of Five conferences. It becomes another Mountain West or Sun Belt conference: they have one or two good teams, but won’t ever be that much a part of the national conversation.

So whatever happens, the AAC has to act quickly. They clearly deserve the consideration, and these next few seasons are vital. If the teams can go above and beyond expectations, they may find themselves in a good position for bargaining their place among the big boys.

Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.
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1 Comment »

  1. Look, I like your article and to some degree, you are correct in that the AAC should be considered as a power 6 league and get the notoriety and money for being so. With that said, the AAC’s mistake was this offseason of adding a school that does not play football at all. I understand basketball, particularly men’s, is another big money maker and conference star to shine brightly and beam through the night to glitter and glamour all on how awesome and powerful a conference you are. I realize by adding Wichita St. that it improves the RPI for men’s basketball, but it does nothing for the other sports, including women’s. Mike Aresco in several interviews stated how Boise St. and San Diego St. were not viable travel options and did not want to add them. But that is a bold face lie. In fact, a deal was brokered when it was learned that the American would not sustain its power status in the new playoff era, so Boise had to reach a settlement with the American and San Diego St. not wanting to be the only team West of the Rockies and BYU also bowed out, not sure about Colorado St, but do believe an offer was on the table, so all these schools wanted to change their minds and go back to Mountain West and achieve the same goals as would in American but with less travel costs. BYU can claim all it wants that it chose to remain independent and did not try to go back to Mountain West, but that is also not true. They have ruined not one but three conferences and are like Texas but with more baggage and much more headache than just the no play on Sunday based on their cult beliefs. I feel Islam is a cult too and my beliefs should not be challenged or condemned as US citizen and my right and as a Christian and Navy veteran. I am sick of having to apologize for stating facts or for supposedly hurting someone’s feelings. Where is my apology to me for all the insults and hurtful comments and statements by the public and media and the like? Enough of that brief rant, my main purpose is to say if American wants to be power 6, must buy-out Wichita St. and add some teams from CUSA, which Aresco also said did not want to do or had no intentions, got to eat some crow bro! The teams that would aid in seeing the American become a power 6 and be the first power conference with more than 14 teams but with 18, yes 18 teams, is the way to go with quantity equaling quality for a rare occasion. Those teams that would elevate the conference and be recognized by the power 5 conferences as finally an equal and worthy of power 6 status are: Old Dominion (who is good in both men’s and women’s basketball and really good in football, unlike UCONN), Southern Miss, moving Navy out of West and putting them in East for all sports or they are all out, must beg, plead, and humble himself and Aresco go after Boise St., San Diego St., I do not want BYU but public and media and money does so follow the money, and finally the sixth team to add to get to 9 team divisions and 9th team in West is UTSA or Fresno St if San Diego St pushes to have a West Coast partner but UTSA has more upside and potential just like drafting NFL players. Do you want one that has reached its ceiling or one where there is almost no roof and has yet to be built. Also mention UTSA because on I-10 and could complete the phrase: “Win the War on I-10.” As four schools would be in the West division along the interstate 10 roadway, and those four schools are San Diego St, UTSA, Houston, and Tulane. I know you may think I am crazy for suggesting such and would prefer a Colorado St over BYU but have to be realistic as many would think for some dumb reason it would finally force Notre Dame to go all in the ACC. I do not think so, but what do I know for sure! I do believe that you add these teams I mentioned for all sports and not just football only and will see the other power conferences give in and more importantly the media and marketing personnel and businesses concede and give the financial support and deals and revenue generated that the AAC so richly deserves. Your divisions for all sports would look like something like this:

    East:
    UCONN
    Temple
    Navy
    Cincinnati
    Old Dominion
    East Carolina
    Southern Miss
    USF
    UCF

    West:
    Tulane
    Memphis
    Houston
    Tulsa
    SMU
    UTSA
    Boise St.
    BYU
    San Diego St.

    With this line-up you get schools with the finances and support and rabid fan bases that want success in all sports and not just football and the success of each program historically brings to the table. Many think Houston is a flash-in-the-pan team, but it is not and same goes for most of these teams. UTSA is relatively new to D-1 in all sports and already had made a name for itself as a tough out in both men and women sports. Southern Miss has historically been called the “Best SEC Team not in the SEC.” The key is you got to buy-out Wichita St. It was a bad move and can say whatever he wants by Aresco, but the main reason is that Creighton had left for New Big East and New Big East got an equal to better deal solely for their men’s basketball and did not want to see another basketball standard bearer added to their league and give them more laughing power at their former Old Big East comrades. These are the move that must be made to get power status. You can disagree all you want, but you know this makes sense and is exactly what needs to happen if the current schools are ever going to get and equal footing in all sports and get more than four selections in NCAAs for all D-1 sports except football, because only four teams make those playoffs for now. So at best the AAC could get at least one team in playoff and another in at-large spot or maybe two depending on how well the conference goes or get three New Year’s Six bowl spots but no playoff team. I do believe with the strength of these teams and how they have performed for the better part of the last fifteen years would give them the strength and possible superior selection status say over the Big 12 and Pac 12 and maybe even the ACC when you compare apples to apples here.

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