Aresco Presents His Case

NEWPORT, R.I. - The location was the same. The name of the conference was different. There were some old faces and there were many new faces. As the American Athletic Conference held its first media day and put the Big East football conference in the past, commissioner Mike Aresco was focused on the future.

Aresco and the 10 schools in The American have no choice but to focus on the future. At media days across the country this month it has become clear that there is a new movement in college athletics.

With conference realignment calmed down, the so-called Big Five - Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Pac 12 - are discussing a possible breakaway from the NCAA that would drastically change the power structure. It could leave Connecticut and the rest of the American out of the picture.

Aresco said he doesn't think that will happen. But if it does, he wants the American to have a place at the table.

"Wee'd all be naive if we didn't realize that certainly it's a possibility and we have to get ahead of it and we have to address it and we have to be firm about it," Aresco said Tuesday.

"In my case I'm an advocate for our conference because, as you can tell from my remarks, I firmly believe if a division like that does materialize, we need to be in it. It's important for obviously the well being and future prestige of our conference, and we feel that our conference clearly has, as I said, the benchmarks and the measurements to be included if it does develop."

That might be easier said than done. Many think the next 18 months will define and shape the future of college athletics. With that in mind, here are some of Aresco's key arguments from a 20-minute introductory speech that was then followed by a question and answer session.

"Clearly we're a conference that wants to compete. We want to play the best. If our teams are successful playing such nonconference schedules, in addition to our very tough conference slate, we will be in a position to challenge for a spot in the national playoff or a spot in a New Year's Day or Eve host Bowl as part of the college football group of six Bowls. Our only limitation will be our own performance. The opportunity is clearly there.

"Which brings me to the topic that's generating a lot of news and comment these days, the possibility of a group of top conferences forming a separate division within the NCAA or, as a last resort, breaking away.

"I would state at the outset that I do not expect the latter, and conversations with other commissioners confirmed to me that that is not a preferred option.

"However, there clearly seems to be support and momentum for exploring a separate division for the schools with the most resources. We've seen the recent comments you all have.

"I understand the frustration felt by the largest conferences with the largest revenues and expenditures, issues of governance and finances that are important to them, and, I might add to us, have become bogged down in a structure that well need reworking in this new era.

"There's a real concern that schools with dissimilar objectives and resources can buy their votes, frustrate the perceived needs of larger better financed schools. There's no question that there's a wide disparity amongst schools in Division I. There's no question that resources and interests differ.

"One cannot disagree with [Big 12 commissioner] Bob Bowlsby, with no disrespect whatsoever to Northern Iowa, as Bob was the AD at Northern Iowa and he mentioned Northern Iowa, and he mentioned that Northern Iowa does not have a lot in common with Texas. And I would submit that Northern Iowa does not have a lot in common with our schools either, with Cincinnati or UConn, UCF or USF, Houston and SMU among others.

"Here is where we stand. Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future, we expect to be part of it. And if a fourth division materializes, and of course we do not know whether that will happen, there are many issues attached to it that obviously have to be vetted. The American Athletic Conference belongs in it. Not because we say we do, but because the empirical indices say we do.

"Whether it's the size of our athletic budgets or our athletic revenues, whether it's the result of whether our football results on the field, which I described to you in recent years, whether it's the size and importance of our markets, and we have very significant markets as you know in our conference, whether it's the heritage of our being a BCS conference, whether it's the heritage of other schools who participated in the old Southwest Conference when it would have been considered a BCS conference, whether it's the alignment of our goals with those of the conferences that are being called the power five conferences, whether it's the size of our stadiums, our attendance, our investment in facilities Houston and Tulane are building new stadiums, for example. Other schools in our conference are upgrading their facilities. Many already have outstanding facilities whether it's the level of TV exposure ESPN will televise 58 of our 66 football games nationally on either ABC again or ESPN national platforms in 2014, with a handful sublicensed to other national networks whether it's our Bowl tie ins and our opponents. As you will see, we'll be playing those conferences in Bowl games.

"All these measurements separate us and put us above the line and, in my opinion and in the opinion of many, into the power group of conferences."

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