NEWPORT, R.I. – With rumors swirling around the possibility of conference realignment, particularly the potential expansion of the Big 12 Conference, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco addressed the ongoing story in his opening speech at the 2016 American Football Media Day in Newport, Rhode Island.
“Big XII expansion, if it happens, and it appears probable, will again change the landscape of college athletics,” Aresco said, after admitting that the issue needed to be discussed. “As presently constituted, the American is a Power Six conference, and it deserves that designation. We have been incredibly competitive.”
Aresco went on to support his claim by listing the conference’s achievements from the past few years. He emphasized the conference featuring several members in the 2015 College Football Playoff Rankings all season long, and talked heavily about two signature victories: Houston’s 38-24 win over Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl and UCF’s 52-42 win over Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
“We have forged a Power Six narrative as a nationally relevant and respected conference,” said Aresco, who also talked about the conference’s success in other sports and singled out UConn for their recent championship success in both men’s and women’s basketball.
‘Power Six’ was a phrase that Aresco frequently returned to, as his speech positioned the American as a competitive equal to the conferences commonly considered the Power Five. He did also acknowledge the financial disparities between conferences.
“The competition for dollars is real,” Aresco said. “But we have to remember that the last dollar is neither the only measure of success nor the primary one. Competitive success should matter the most.”
Even as he extolled his conference’s strengths and praised the people involved, Aresco talked backup plans should one or multiple members leave the American, and pointed to the conference’s three-year history of adapting and surviving.
“We’re going to get right back to building the league if something does happen,” Aresco said. There was skepticism, and look what we’ve accomplished, even under the shadow of near-constant conference realignment speculation over the last few years.”
“We’re not shying away from the elephant in the room, we understand that there’s an issue here,” the commissioner added in a post-speech Q&A session.
UConn has been a recurring name in Big 12 expansion rumors due to its storied athletic history and close proximity to the New York City media market, although the school has not publicly vouched for a power conference spot as some of their conference rivals have.
Football head coach Bob Diaco and new athletic director David Benedict adopted a similar approach when asked about the possibility of moving conferences.
Diaco acknowledged that he wanted his program to have the best possible resources, but said he’s not thinking about realignment personally. Benedict declined to comment when asked whether or not Big 12 officials had made the trip up to UConn to discuss the school’s candidacy.
Benedict did offer great praise for the American, and its commissioner.
“I think Commissioner Aresco’s done a Herculean job in continuing to build this conference, move it forward. The staff of the American does a wonderful job, and I think everyone is focused on this upcoming season,” Benedict said.
Instead, the UConn contingent present at Media Day focused solely on the football team, talking about the Huskies’ potential to build on a resurgent 2015 campaign and grow even further this year. UConn was picked to finish fourth in the American’s East Division by media members, behind USF, Temple and Cincinnati.
“You can’t help but be confident and excited about the program,” Diaco said.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org