American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was dealt a bad hand when he took on the job and responsibilities as commissioner of the conference, but he is doing what every good conference commissioner does and continues to stump for the best possible situation. For Aresco, the battle is to have the American Athletic Conference thought of in the same regard as the power conference members — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — instead of the Group of Five. It is a fight he is not going to be waving a white flag in anytime soon it seems.
We saw it last November when the conference committed to full cost of attendance. It has been a theme of recent media day events for the conference. It is not going away as long as Aresco is in charge. He may never see this fight end with the AAC being given the same treatment as its power conference brethren, but gosh darn it he wants to see it happen.
“We want to be in that conversation and eventually we want to be viewed as one of the autonomy conferences, that’s our ultimate goal,” Aresco told the Orlando Sentinel last week. “But in the meantime, in order down the road to negotiate a better TV deal to provide more value, we need to not only win games — and I think we’re on the cusp of having some pretty good seasons — but I think we want to, we absolutely need to be in that conversation.”
The American Athletic Conference’s current media deals do not expire for another few years, but Aresco would prefer to get a jump on the talks earlier if he can. The conference’s seven-year $130 million deal with ESPN expires at the end fo the 2019-2020 seasons. ESPN may have a few reasons to refrain from making any financial commitment just yet, especially with Conference USA, BYU and the Big Ten media deals due to expire before the AAC comes up. The Mountain West Conference’s deal with ESPN also expires at the same time. But at least Aresco is thinking long-term. That’s his job.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your conference to be playing on the same playing field as the Big Ten or SEC or ACC. In fact, you probably would not want a commissioner in charge that did not have that vision for your conference. If the American is ever going to get there though, it needs to take steps in that direction. Right now, the American has more to prove when stacked up against a conference like the Mountain West Conference. Of the Group of Five conferences, the MWC appears to be the most stable at the moment, although the American may be in a firm second place ahead of the MAC, Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference.
So what does the American have that other conferences do not? It has better TV markets and more programs with legs to run if all goes well. Programs like Cincinnati and UCF and Houston should be in the running for Group of Five autobids fairly regularly along with Boise State of the MWC. The addition of Navy brings a bid of national prestige to the conference as well. But the conference has a long way to go before even sniffing the power conference table.