I put on my fake journalist hat today and made the trip to Newport for AAC Media Day, which was preceded by a lovely clambake last night. Newport is an interesting location for a conference as spread out as ours but oh well-- it made it easy for me to go.
I had a chance to briefly speak with ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay last night, who mentioned that he doesn't really have any UConn players on his radar right now but has yet to complete his preliminary Top 200. I think we have a few guys, including the two UConn players in attendance (CB Byron Jones and WR Geremy Davis), who should merit looks come draft time. But before that, there's this pesky football season to take care of, and a lot can change between now and next May.
This morning's AAC Media Day kicked off with a rousing video featuring the successes of the conference in the past year, and then Mike Aresco took the podium. He was strong willed, slightly repetitive and seemed pleased to have much more to discuss than last year. Instead of optimism, Aresco was able to share detailed proof of success, progress and the will to contend with the power conferences of college sports, " Our goal is to be in the conversation as the sixth power conference. I believe by virtue of our performance that we already are." He touted the accomplishments of UConn's basketball teams and UCF's triumphant win over the Big 12 champions from Baylor. Both Kevin Ollie and Geno Auriemma received a mention as well. Aresco repeatedly, and defiantly, spoke about the quality of the conference and its school's aggressive improvement efforts- noting new stadiums for Houston and Tulane, as well as renovations to Cincinnati's historic Nippert Stadium.
Aresco: "If I sounded defiant at times today, it is because I was and am. I scoff at the term non-power conference applied to us."— American Football (@American_FB) July 29, 2014
Like the other conference commissioners at their media days, Aresco discussed the emerging challenges facing NCAA leadership: autonomy, pay-for-play, full cost of attendance scholarships and leveling the playing field. He mentioned that the AAC was one of the first conferences to commit to full cost of attendance, "Scholarships have not kept pace with the costs incurred by student‑athletes in various areas. We need to remedy this. It's the right thing to do." He doesn't see the pending power five autonomy as a threat to the conference or college sports and that the idea of professionalizing the student-athlete is the real threat. This is where his logic, like the logic of his peers, gets a little dicey.
Aresco believes that if you pay the players and remove the scholarship model, then only the richest schools will benefit. Because that isn't the case right now. He thinks a lot of the changes being pushed by legislators or in court cases are driven by a political agenda and overzealous lawyers-- a defense commonly used by people with no actual counter to the argument against them. He acknowledges that the coaches are well paid, but that this prevents them from being involved in pro sports. Come on.
It was great to see Commissioner Mike Aresco proudly discuss the accomplishments and promise of the American Athletic Conference, but how likely are we to see a year as good as the last? Unlike last year, there is no auto-bid for the conference, and we will be sharing a major bowl bid with the MAC, C-USA, BYU, Boise St., and others. The AAC is certainly in prime position for this bid, but there will be some serious contenders from that group. UConn Women's Basketball is a perennial Final Four team, but the same can't be said for the men and I don't know if there are other Men's Basketball teams in the conference who have a chance at making a deep tournament run this year. I think we will definitely see progress, but concrete results don't always immediately follow increased effort. Keep that in mind as we approach what is looking more and more like a rebuilding year for UConn Football.