GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Exactly one week before East Carolina officially joins the American Athletic Conference, commissioner Mike Aresco held a press conference in Harvey Hall inside the Murphy Center. Director of athletics Jeff Compher introduced Aresco, who took the podium to offer some comments of his own before taking questions from the media.
"I can't say enough about the leadership here with Jeff and Dr. (Steve) Ballard. They have taken this university to new heights. Jeff is already one of my trusted advisors, counselors and friends. We're going to welcome out new schools and make them feel at home.
Conference realignment, as you all know, can be a little awkward. You're already in one conference, but you're really in another. Your mind is somewhere else. It has to be managed in a way and one of the things we've tried to do in our conference is take the high road all the time when people left and when people came in. We've done that and I think it's helped to establish our conference quickly as a brand.
Needless to say, I'm thrilled and delighted to welcome East Carolina to the American Athletic Conference. As you know, they officially join the July 1. Our conference will be issuing a statement at that time welcoming our three new schools, which will be East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.
This is a great university in all respects. It's also an important university in the state of North Carolina for the economy and for the greater region, as well. It's going to have a national reputation in athletics by virtue of our conference and the incredible TV exposure it's going to get. It has outstanding athletic programs, which it has had over the years, and is only going to get better under Jeff's stewardship.
Now they're going to get the attention and exposure that this university has long deserved. We have a great TV arrangement in the conference. All the games virtually are going to be on ESPN platforms, with some on CBS Sports networks and some on ABC. We have three ABC guaranteed appearances in football. We have all conference games on ESPN platforms or CBS Sports networks. All 18 games are going to be on, in addition to nine conference games in basketball.
Years ago, when Dave Hart was the AD here, I visited, I got to know Dave, and I got to know the university. I realized that there was something special going on here. It was very evident to me. This was a great place with rabid fans and really exciting teams. It had the kind of atmosphere that sometimes—I spent 16 years programming the SEC in football and other sports—it has that kind of atmosphere. There's a kind of real identification with the teams. Obviously, the football program, I wouldn't call it a hidden gem, but it was a gem that really hadn't been fully discovered.
To make a long story short, back in 1991, I recommended to the management at ESPN to do a deal with East Carolina, that was independent at the time, for all six of their football games nationally on ESPN. We got a deal from 1991 to 1996. Five-year deal. Eventually, East Carolina, during that period, joined Conference USA and the deal stayed in place. It was great exposure for the university and the university rewarded ESPN by winning the famous Peach Bowl in 1992. I remember the announcer saying at the end, ‘You can paint this peach purple!'
Obviously, Jeff Blake, taking the team from behind, but there's a long history here of great football and great athletics generally. I think the basketball program will have chances to make great strides because you're now going to have the national champion coming here in UConn. You've got Larry Brown, Calvin Sampson and Mick Cronin and Fran Dunphy and a host of other great coaches joining the conference.
This conference is marked by great football and basketball coaches and also our coaches in Olympic coaches. We've done very well in Olympic sports.
Finally, it's been a storybook year for us. It was a remarkable inaugural season. We won the Fiesta Bowl, we won the two national championships in men's and women's, we were finalists in the NIT, won the women's NIT, had a team in the College World Series. That's a pretty high bar.
I said to somebody once, a reporter, and I was joking, but I said ‘We don't want to reach our high-water mark in our first year.' So, we've got to really rev up and continue to be very good in everything, which I think we will.
This conference, and I don't want to be metaphysical, but this conference, like the old Big East, is born of an idea of teams challenging and competing. There's no questioning that these teams have that ethic and this conference has that ethic. What you're going to see is what you saw in the old Big East—programs coming in that will raise their level and raise their profile. Virginia Tech—Frank Beamer, to this day, says there's no way Virginia Tech could ever have done what it did without having membership in the Big East. Virginia Tech, the Hokies, people didn't know them that well.
Look where Florida State was years ago. Not that they were in our conference, of course, but think about where they were and how they built a program. It's not easy to do, but you can do it.
A program like this is already in place, obviously, especially in football. It's already in place, it just needs to be discovered. One of the things this conference has is an incredible TV deal. We don't necessarily yet have the money we think we'll generate down the road, but we also, because of the nature of the conference realignment we went through, we got a TV deal in place and we got the Catholic 7 deal sorted out. We found good venues for our championship games, we moved on and did other things. Because of that, though, we're in pretty good shape as we move forward. We almost have a second stream of rights, so the financial stability of the conference was assured.
In the future, we only have a six-year deal in football and basketball. We expect, down the road, to sit down with ESPN and talk about that. We think our performance this year is key.
And finally, I just wanted to point out, you've heard a lot about NCAA governance and the governance redesign process. You've heard a lot about autonomy. You've heard a lot about the ‘Power 5,' the ‘Equity 5,' the ‘High Resource 5.' There's a lot of different names they're called. We're knocking on that door. We look at it as five plus one. We look at it as, down the road, we hope it'll be six. We think there will be six. We have six teams in our league that once played in a BCS conference or the old Southwest Conference, which was the equivalent.
We also have the best of Conference USA coming into our conference to elevate their programs. That's a pretty powerful combination. When you have schools like East Carolina, USF, UCF, Houston, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Memphis, Connecticut, and Navy coming in next year, and SMU and Tulane.
There's a powerful dynamic at work here. This is going to be a terrific conference. You're not necessarily going to win a national championship every year and you're not necessarily going to win a major bowl game every year, but I think we're going to be competitive every year and people are going to expect us to be competitive.
I'm very excited about this. I'm very excited about the branding of the conference, but also ECU's place in it. As I said, this is an all-around great university and it has great programs. I had a chance to meet several student athletes.
In closing, you get involved in so many things these days as a commissioner. The business of college sports is a competitive business. It's very demanding. You're dealing, obviously, with other commissioners. You're dealing with a lot of budgetary issues. You're dealing with presidents and ADs. You're dealing with a lot of different issues like realignment and all sorts of things. You can't forget that it's all about the student athletes. That's why we're here. When I meet them and I spend time with them, and I've done it since the time I became commissioner, you realize what great kids they are and how important it is they have the facilities and resources.
That's what we said when we set upon keeping this conference together and making sure it was a top conference—we want our student athletes to have the same opportunities they had before when they were in the old Big East. We want the new schools coming in to give their student athletes the same opportunities to compete at the highest level.
We know they're going to compete well academically. We have great academic institutions in our conference. We have a great mix of important research institutions and bigger institutions like ECU, Houston and the Florida schools. We also have small, outstanding private schools like Tulsa, Tulane and SMU. And the Naval Academy being a highly-regarded national institution. We want to make sure that our student athletes have the best of everything. I think we're on the way."
You talked about the Power 5. Would you be in favor of Division I breaking apart?
"No, I wouldn't. But also, the one thing we're stressing is that there are 10 FBS conferences. 10 football conferences that play at the highest level of Division I, meaning FBS. What we're trying to do is define ourselves as members of that group. Then, on the other hand, there's a branding of the so-called Power 5, which have the conferences that have the most resources and the largest TV deals.
What we're trying to do is say, ‘Look, we are close to them. We want to be in that group.' It's like a subgroup. Now, it's not an official subgroup and it won't be. I think, in the end, the new design of the NCAA, while those schools will have a certain level of autonomy, they'll have the ability to pass certain kinds of legislation. That legislation is going to be permissive, meaning that we can do it, too. So, if they decide that they want to grant full cost of attendance to their student athletes, which I think is coming and is something we should do for student athletes, consequently, we'll be able to do the same thing. Nothing will deny us the ability to do that.
What we want to do it be perceived in the public mind as one of six conferences that compete at that level. For instance, when the Big East was in the BCS, that's how it was perceived. That's what we want to do. We want to get back there and that's been the goal since day one.
We're not going to take a backseat to anyone. We're not going to be viewed as secondary to anyone, which is important to our student athletes. We want them to feel great about the schools they attend and the conference they're in.
To answer your question, I think Division I will stay together. Remember, there are 10 FBS and then there are 22 that play either FCS or Division I basketball that are also conferences that play at the Division I level. I think, in the end when this is all said and done, we'll maintain our competitive position. As long as scholarship limits remain the same, and I think they will, transfer rules will work out so they're reasonable, there'll be thresholds for passing some of this legislation, we'll be able to compete.
I've never said it'll be easy. I've always tried to be measured and I've also only tried to tout our achievements. If we hadn't won the Fiesta Bowl and hadn't won these national championships and we hadn't done as well in these other sports and the NIT, I wouldn't be up here saying, ‘Oh, what a year we had. It was an incredible year.' I would be saying that we would be competitive in the future and that we have a lot of potential, which I firmly believe.We also achieved in the very first year some of that potential, which I think was overlooked and I think was overlooked for good reason. Realignment hit hard and we had the Catholic 7 arrangement we had to get worked out. All the focus was on them. The focus was on those schools leaving. We said it's better if they're small, Catholic schools that want to play basketball, that might be better for everyone in the end.
We thought we had a good group of schools that played football and basketball at a high level. We thought we would be better aligned that way. We would have liked to keep them in the conference, but in the end, they don't want to be subjected to realignment anymore. It makes sense. We understand that and we try to take the high road. We ultimately reached a settlement.
That left a group of schools that didn't get enough attention early on. I relentlessly promote the conference. That's part of my job, but I also believe in this conference. I said to our ADs and our presidents that if schools don't want to compete at this level, then again, that's why you're here in this conference. They all do. There's no question in my mind that every school in our conference wants to be viewed with those other five conference and viewed in the same way. They want to build their programs.
They want to build their programs. Now we've got guys from schools that aren't flagship state universities, but are very important universities that have big student bodies and have resources. They're going to now get the attention that they didn't get before.
In closing, and I know I probably answered more than just that question, but if you look at the TV deal that we have, to me, that is a trump card for us. The exposure is remarkable. When you have all your games on ESPN platforms and you have three ABC nationals, when you have as many as two dozen games on ESPN and ESPN 2, when you have all conference games in basketball on, when you have 40 or 50 conference games on ESPN platforms or CBS—that's exposure that can rival any conference in the country. That's going to build brands.
UCF, think about it. How many really had seen UCF very much in football or basketball? In fact, they were rebranding as UCF more than Central Florida over the last few years. But, in our conference, they were able to play on ESPN platforms all season long in football. They got to play the big Louisville game. They won and they came from behind. The entire country suddenly knew who they were. They got to be in a BCS game. They won the Fiesta Bowl.
Suddenly, UCF is in a completely different place than they were. Yet, the program was always terrific. Same thing with ECU. The program has always been terrific, but now it's going to have the chance to be on all these platforms playing on the occasional Thursday and on Saturdays. We do play a fair number of Fridays. We've avoided it in certain states, obviously, where high school football on Friday night is very important. We do play some Fridays.
We provide ESPN with tremendous value. Those games sometimes rate higher than some of the big weekend games. That Louisville and UCF game was one of their highest rated games that entire weekend. I think we're in a good place."