It’s over. AAC leaders can finally stop eating dried foods and emerge from their bunker. The Big 12 isn’t expanding and our upstart conference is staying intact, for now. You never know with these bozos.
After a meeting Monday afternoon, the Big 12 has determined that the best course of action, after itself opening, closing, and then re-opening the conversation, is to stand pat at 10 members. According to President Susan Herbst via Jeff Jacobs, “The word tabling was not used. They are not expanding.”
And so ends one of the truly wondrous yet maddening storylines in the world of college sports. The Big 12 had an impetus to expand, first catalyzed by a need for 12 members to have a conference championship game until an NCAA vote removed that requirement. The possibility stayed alive in part thanks to the insistence of Oklahoma President David Boren, whose strongly-worded rhetoric seemed to imply that he wanted to see change and was not the only one of his peers who felt that way.
Like your typical non-profit organization created for the protection of America’s youth from commercialization, the Big 12 received feedback from its television partners, highly-paid consultants, and its most powerful institutional leaders before ultimately declaring that expansion as not in their best interests. Fine.
This is not such terrible news for UConn. No expansion was the second-best possibility coming out of this whole saga and given how realignment has shaken up in the past for us, that ain’t bad.
Moreover, while joining the Big 12 would have been a major boon to the bottom line of UConn’s athletic department, the fit was far from ideal and would have caused some major complications for the Olympic sports, which are played by people too. There’s no telling how long the Big 12 stays together, so UConn potentially would have been joining in a similar situation as USF when it joined the Big East a little late in the game.
UConn, along with the other conference mates who were up for promotion, can now focus on the American and the future of a budding conference which has developed quite nicely in its short lifetime. The onus is on Mike Aresco to negotiate a pay raise from the AAC’s television partners in order to bridge the sizeable and growing revenue gap between the “power five” conferences. He has a decent business case.
In three-plus seasons, the conference has won two New Year’s bowl games, four basketball championships, and, perhaps most importantly, seen a solid lift in revenue sport performance from the schools which it called up from Conference USA. It also added Navy, a tradition-rich football program with a national fanbase, and could even add more schools in advance of the next round of negotiations to increase that market reach.
When UConn joined the Big East in 1979, and decided to double down in football twenty years later, it was able to elevate the athletic program on the backs of some more prominent schools. Schools like Syracuse, Boston College, and others had much more cache at that point and UConn was able to benefit from it in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Now is the time for UConn to be that leader for the American, to be the school upon which others are able to build their reputation up.
In due time, a school as strong as UConn, athletically and academically, will find its rightful spot. Until then, the American, assuming everyone stays put, is a perfectly fine hangout. Nobody knows where the structures of college athletics are heading in the near and long-term future. All we can do, in the words of Western Michigan head football coach P.J. Fleck, is keep rowing that boat.