Big 12 Conference presidents decided Monday against expanding, which might disappoint the nine American Athletic Conference schools reportedly among 12 finalists.
But Cincinnati, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, UCF and UConn shouldn’t be dismayed.
Because if you can beat ’em, why join ’em?
The former Big East has supplanted the Big 12 as a “Power 5” conference based on this season’s nonconference winning percentages of the 10 FBS conferences this season. In fact, the fifth-place AAC is just behind the fourth-place Pac-12. The Big 12 is sixth.
Half of the AAC’s 12 teams have overall winning records while only three have losing records. Two AAC teams are in the Associated Press Top 25 — the Cougars at No. 11 and Navy at No. 24. A third, South Florida, also received votes.
“I think everything is on an upward trajectory,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco told ASN at the conference’s media day. “It all feeds on itself. If you’ve had success you’re more likely to have success.”
One question raised by the possibility of expansion was what the Big 12 would gain by adding two or more of the reported finalists. Given the AAC’s success, it’s fair to ask what those schools would have gained by joining the Big 12.
In two “New Year’s Six” bowl appearances, the AAC is 2-0 — including UCF’s 52-42 victory against Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. This season, Houston beat Oklahoma 33-23 in the opener.
If you can beat ’em, why join ’em?
The fledgling four-year-old conference appears to have a good thing going. Attendance increased 10% last year, Aresco said, and the AAC has eight bowl tie-ins. It also will contend for another New Year’s Six appearance.
But the grass is always greener — and so is the Big 12’s TV money. AAC schools each get $2 million from their current TV deal, which expires after the 2020 season.
“I think that we’ve gotta hit a home run with our next TV contract in order to maintain or sustain the momentum that our conference has right now,” Houston head coach Tom Herman said in June. “Because if we don’t then the gap [widens].”
On the playing field, at least, the AAC has closed the gap.
“Eventually our goal is to be a P-6 (Power 6 conference),” Aresco said. “I think we are now, but who knows what perceptions will be if we lose some schools. But I think those will be temporary, we’ll get right back. And if we (do) then it’s a new ballgame. It effects everything — perception, whatever. So that’s our long-term goal.”