Over the past few weeks, there’s been more discussion about the Power 5 conference than usual due to a myriad of things ranging from high-profile football games to Big 12 expansion. This group, as most people know, consists of the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC.
Then, there’s the Group of 5. These are the small conferences that for the most part miss out on the big bucks that collegiate athletics provide. Most people would put UConn’s conference, the American Athletic Conference, in this territory.
Mike Aresco, the American’s commissioner, would respectfully disagree with this notion. He constantly refers to the American as one of the “Power 6” conferences, which includes the American amongst the standard Power 5 schools. To be fair to Aresco, even though the American doesn’t pull in nearly as much money as the Power 5 conferences, Aresco certainly treats and run the conference like one of the best conferences in the nation.
Football Media Day is a perfect example. Located right on the water in Newport, Rhode Island, the two-day event is extremely well run and even features an impressive New England-style lobster and clam bake the evening prior to the actual media day. That’s not something a Group of 5 conference would even think of doing. Maybe it’s the lobster talking, but American media day is almost always regarded as one of the best media days in football due the amenities, location and access it provides. It’s certainly on a Power 5 level because Aresco would not want it any other way.
So when I saw some photos of UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie circulating on Twitter, I assumed he pulled a Bob Diaco and made up a rivalry with another conference member, guaranteed a national championship or said any of the crazy things Diaco has said at media days in the past.
I was wrong.
Ollie was all over Twitter because his microphone, along with senior Rodney Purvis’ microphone, were scotch-taped to their faces as they talked about the upcoming season.
I respect the attempt to try and MacGyver a solution using what’s around, but this is a bad look for anyone on television. It’s an even worse look for a conference striving to run itself like a Power 5 conference.
A week ago, a handful of schools in the American were rumored to be on the verge of heading to the Power 5 promise land as the Big 12 looked to expand. When the Big 12 tabled that idea, those hopes were squashed, but the American was more noticeable than ever. How do they follow that up? With scotch tape on the coach and player of one of the most nationally-recognized schools in the conference. It makes this conference- a well run, competitive conference on the rise- look like a low-level Group of 5 conference that is just happy to get on TV. Say whatever you want about the American, but it’s a lot better than that.
The American certainly has its flaws- a weak bottom-half or third of the conference in most main sports, a small TV deal and some less than well known schools are just a few- but its schools, staff and athletics are better than any Group of 5 conference. It’s not hard to distinguish them from the pack of Group of 5 schools.
But stuff like this scotch tape fiasco makes that line a little bit blurrier. For a conference with so many Power-5 worthy schools, those big-time aspirations seem even farther away now with expansion tabled. To those who don’t follow the American closely, it makes the conference look like it isn’t well run, as if it doesn’t have successful schools and athletic programs.
With the collegiate landscape likely set in stone for at least a while, now is the time for the American to continue to grow and maybe even become a Power 6 conference down the road. The foundation is being laid for this conference to be successful in the future, but scotch tape isn’t going to be what holds it together. Stuff like this can’t continue to happen if it wants to continue to run itself like a Power 5 conference. The American has its problems right now, but they are fixable ones. They just can’t be fixed with scotch tape.