Where will UMass head in football in 2016? Not the AAC. Not yet, at least.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco commented about the stability of the conference moving forward and said further expansion is not necessarily on the radar at this time. The AAC will lose Louisville to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten later this year, but will add East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane. Navy is set to join as a football-playing member in 2015, which will allow the conference to hold a conference championship game with 12 members.
“That’s the configuration we expect the conference to have going forward,” Aresco said according to Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Now you never rule out anything. We would always be, alert, in terms of expansion down the road. But I don’t know there’s going to be much realignment the next few years,” Aresco said.
UMass is presumed to be hoping the conference has a change of heart soon though, because it is the conference that seems to make the most sense for a future conference home. Earlier this week UMass announced they have agreed with the MAC to leave the conference as a football-only member after the 2015 season.
“We have a lot of respect for UMass. It’s a flagship university, a high quality northeast presence. UMass has a lot of things going for it,” Aresco said. “We don’t have any plans to expand.”
It would help if UMass could be viewed as an attractive option for the conference, but the transition from FCS to the FBS has gone poorly in the early going for the Minutemen. The good news is the program has two seasons to reshape that image. Will that be enough? Even if UMass does show signs of improving and growth to be a competitive program, the AAC is already at 12 members. Adding just for numbers is no longer a need for the conference since it will meet the NCAA requirement to hold a conference championship game. This is why partnering up with Army in some sort of unified sales pitch may be required by UMass if the AAC is to be convinced expanding would be a benefit.
“We think we’ll be a cohesive stable group of 12,” Aresco said. “That doesn’t rule out us thinking about expanding down the road if the right institution made sense, if there was good, academic, athletic and cultural fit. That’s not our goal right now. Our goal is to build the league and build value in football and basketball like we have in our first year.”