Let me begin today with an erratum. Last week, while discussing the demand by Ben Simmons to be traded from the Sixers, I said that maximizing the return to the Sixers would fall to GM, Daryl Morey. Over the weekend, a long-term reader of these rants from Philly sent me a note to inform me that Daryl Morey is the Sixers’ Team President and that the Sixers’ GM is Elton Brand.
Thanks for that correction…
I got another email from a reader over the weekend posing a question related to the issue of the Big-12 poaching 3 teams from the AAC as part of its expansion. Here is the pertinent text of that email:
“You said that the AAC was the big loser in all of this. So, what can or should the AAC do to continue to survive?”
Obviously, if I had an air-tight plan to keep the AAC relevant in football, I would be in touch with its Commissioner, Mike Aresco. The fact that I am not trying to get through to him tells you that I consider these remarks only slightly above the level of superficial. Let me start by setting the college football landscape.
- The so-called Power 5 conferences are the ACC, Big-10, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC. That is where the big money is in terms of TV rights deals; that is where most Division 1-A football programs would prefer to be. However, membership in that echelon of college football is “by invitation only”.
- The so-called Group of 5 conferences are the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt. Until the AAC lost Cincy, Houston and UCF, the AAC was the best of these second-tier football conferences.
Imagine that all the transfers out of the Big-12 and then subsequently into the Big-12 that have been announced so far took place tomorrow morning. That is not the case, but just pretend it is. The effect on the AAC is that it would be down to 8 teams and would be looking to expand. It could “entice” other programs to join it by selling the fact that it has been in recent times the best of the Group of 5 conferences – – but that selling point could be very fleeting if no other competitive programs jump at the opportunity to be part of the AAC.
At first glance, the AAC could turn to the “Independents” to try to coax them into signing on. After all, those schools would suffer no financial penalty for breaking off an existing conference affiliation and since money is the driving force for all this realignment, the lack of an expense is a selling point. Then you take a look at the seven Independents and realize that this is a relatively barren field:
- Army: They could join Navy in the AAC and that might entice the folks at Army to give this serious consideration. Army and Navy are not football powerhouses as they once were, but both schools have a large national following. For the AAC, this should be “Priority Number One” as an acquisition.
- BYU: Forget it. BYU is the fourth school invited to join the Big-12 along with the 3 departing AAC schools.
- Liberty: An intriguing thought … Importantly, Liberty fits in the geographical footprint of the AAC schools. If I were Mike Aresco, I would be on the horn to the AD in Lynchburg as soon as I finished pitching the AD at Army to come aboard.
- New Mexico State : The Aggies do not fit in the conference geographical footprint and the football program there has been a weak sister in recent times. They are an independent because their previous conference affiliation ended when the conference did the moral equivalent of showing them the door.
- Notre Dame: Don’t be silly…
- UConn: The entire program there is a hot mess; I have suggested elsewhere that it either abandon football entirely or drop down to Division 1-AA. On the other hand, some of the schools in the AAC might want to invite a doormat to join to make their records a bit better…
- UMass: Ditto what I just said about UConn…
Maybe, the AAC could coax Army and Liberty to join it bringing its membership up to 10 schools. Now, where to find another two teams? Well, the idea would be to poach two schools from lesser Group of 5 conferences – – preferably ones that are geographically convenient to the other schools and ones that have some TV interest attached to them. Here are a couple of possibilities:
- UTSA: With SMU and Tulsa already in the AAC, UTSA fits geographically, and this is a program that has been ascending in the past several years. The San Antonio TV market is not nearly what the Houston TV market is, but the team is competitive and therefore attractive. UTSA is now in C-USA.
- Air Force: This is a real stretch – – but if the AAC can entice Army to join Navy in the conference, maybe they could also poach Air Force from the Mountain West? Colorado Springs does stretch the geography a bit, but might it work?
- Coastal Carolina: The program is growing in visibility, and it is in the right geographical spot. Coastal is currently a Sun Belt team.
- Appalachian State: About 15 years ago, they went to Ann Arbor and beat a top ranked Michigan team. That upset was so stark that Appalachian State will be a recognizable name to college football fans for another 20 years. App St is also a Sun Belt team
- La- Lafayette: La-Laf is geographically where the AAC might want it to be, and it has been upgrading its football program for the last several years. La-Laf is also a Sun Belt team.
From my vantage point, the optimal quartet of teams for the ACC to acquire to get to a 12-team conference would be:
- Appalachian State
So, that is my recommendation for the AAC going forward; it is a scenario where the AAC is a “buyer”. But there is another factor for the AAC Commish to keep in mind:
- Has the Big-12 decided to remain a conference with 12 teams, or does it aspire to a larger size?
The PAC-12 says it has no expansion plans. The Big-10 is not likely to try to acquire any of the AAC schools. The ACC seems uninterested in expansion and the SEC would not look twice at an AAC school. But might the Big-12 want to take another bite out of the so-called Group of 5 conferences? In that case, the AAC and the Sun Belt and C-USA had better batten down the hatches because things could get very rocky very quickly.
The question posed by the reader involved what the AAC can do and should do. What I have listed here is what I think they should do. Can the AAC pull it off? If it hopes to remain as the best of the Group of 5 conferences, it had better do so.
Finally, a football conference is sort of like an extended family. So let me close today with an observation by the satirist, Alexander Pope:
“A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………