Aresco, AAC not pursuing expansion
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
NEWPORT, R.I. — Standing in front of American Athletic Conference “Power Six” logos on Tuesday, conference commissioner Mike Aresco was persistent that he thinks the American is strong enough to not immediately replace Connecticut when the Huskies leave for the Big East.
Aresco said during his annual address at Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina at AAC media days that negotiations between the league and UConn about the timeline of the Huskies’ official departure are ongoing, but that the AAC has no plans right now to replace UConn. Later, that could involve eliminating East and West divisions in football to avoid imbalance.
East Carolina plays in the AAC East, which will include UConn at least for this year.
“We are leaning and inclined to stay at 11 (football teams) because we are not going to add a team just for the sake of adding a team,” Aresco said. “We have relationships with other conferences and the last thing I wanted to do is have a situation where there is instability in the college community because of us. We don’t want to do that. Right now, the message I want to send is that we are a powerful conference, even at 11.
“We are very strong in basketball as well, which you saw in the (NCAA) tournament with UCF’s near upset of Duke and Houston almost upset Kentucky. We are tremendous in basketball, and we added Wichita State (in 2017), and football speaks for itself as very powerful.”
Aresco added that continuing to play an AAC football championship game is non-negotionable, which when UConn leaves would require getting a waiver from the NCAA for staging a title game in a conference with less than 12 teams.
The commissioner was cautious with his words about how the American’s new contract with ESPN, set to begin in 2020 and run through 2032, might be affected by UConn’s exit to return to a better geographical and basketball fit for the Huskies in the Big East.
“We are very strong, but obviously that is a change and we are going to work with our friends at ESPN and work through this and hopefully do what is right,” he said.
Aresco hit on other topics during his news conference, including touting and rattling off the league’s best all-time football players that included him mentioning former East Carolina standouts Justin Hardy, Zay Jones and Shane Carden. Aresco also mentioned new coaches and administrators, which for ECU featured first-year football coach Mike Houston and first-year athletics director Jon Gilbert.
Gilbert and Houston both were in Newport for the first time for the AAC’s annual summer event.
“His work has already had an impact on that athletic department and on their football program,” Aresco said of Gilbert, who came to the Pirates from Southern Miss of Conference USA in December.
Even after Aresco’s league address, questions still were asked to veteran football coach Randy Edsall and UConn players about the future of the Huskies.
“We attend what is considered a basketball university and they have had tremendous success, so as a football program we just want to prove ourselves and get the opportunity to prove ourselves,” senior receiver Donovan Williams said. “We are really not focusing on all the conference talk. We are just focused on being able to come out with a win Week 1 (against Wagner).”
The AAC’s new contract with ESPN is projected to create more revenue for the league’s teams compared to the current deal, but the American still trails the Power Five leagues in revenue distribution and other areas. Those leagues are the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12.
Aresco noted that during Week 1 of this football season, the American has more prime opportunities with Houston playing at Oklahoma, Memphis hosting Ole Miss and Cincinnati welcoming in UCLA in hopes of beating the Bruins in consecutive seasons.
The Pirates’ season-opener is at ACC squad N.C. State.
“I used to always say that we are a little bit like JetBlue, as a major carrier but we do it a little differently than Delta or American Airlines or whatever,” Aresco said. “We never said we are the Big Ten or the SEC, but we can play at that level and compete. I think ESPN recognizes that and recognizes our growing strength in basketball.”
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.