Column: The American power problem

Wichita State guard Landry Shamet (11) shoots in front of Dayton forward Kendall Pollard (25) during the second half of a first-round game in the men's NCAA college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 17, 2017. Wichita State defeated Dayton 64-58. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Since the start of 2017, the American Athletic Conference began rolling out a new hashtag: #AmericanPow6r. Let that sink in for a second.

For the sake of time and clarity, let’s not even dive into the borderline ridiculous artistic license the conference is taking to replace an “e” with a “6.” The goal of this hashtag is to show that, according to the conference, there is no more Power 5, which usually consists of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and the Pac-12 and that The American is that sixth power conference, seemingly on par with the others.

Here is what The American has done since the rollout of #AmericanPow6r. Make of this what you will.

Win two of seven college football bowl games.

Send the same number of teams (two) to the 2017 men’s NCAA Tournament as the West Coast Conference, and one fewer than the Atlantic 10. Neither of the two American teams advanced to the second weekend.

Send three teams to the women’s NCAA tournament, with two schools exiting in the first round and one advancing to the Sweet 16 (UConn, duh).

Attempt to supposedly lure mid-major powerhouse Wichita State as an everything-but-football member to boost the men’s basketball profile.

Announce that the women’s basketball conference tournament will stay at Mohegan Sun Arena, while the men’s basketball tournament will likely rotate between Orlando, Florida, Hartford, Connecticut and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Some of those things are fine, and the things that are fine usually revolve around UConn. That’s probably not an accident. Keeping the women’s tournament at Mohegan, where it has been very successful due to the huge turnout of UConn fans, is a no-brainer. Same for the women’s tournament success. In case you didn’t know, the UConn women are really good at basketball, and people will show up to watch it.

Some of these things, however, are alarming. Having only two wins in seven bowl games in a supposed strong year for The American is not a good look. Neither is SMU getting upset in round one of the NCAA Tournament, Cincinnati losing in round two and, if we’re being honest, UConn not even making any sort of postseason in the first place.

Even adding Wichita State is not nearly as good of an idea as it may seem at first glance. Yes, the Shockers are good –for now. WSU’s success is almost single-handedly due to head coach Gregg Marshall. If he ends up leaving, there’s no telling what the future of Shockers basketball looks like. Even if they stay at this level of success, adding one good team does not fix the handful of awful basketball teams that occupy the basement of The American basketball standings.

But the cherry on top of this brutal stretch of American ineptitude comes not from the lack of postseason success or adding the Shockers, but the location of the conference tournament.

Don’t get me wrong, Orlando, Hartford and Tulsa are not the worst locations, but they’re far from the best the conference has to offer. The only good thing about the American’s breadth is that it encompasses major markets and cities like New Orleans, Memphis or Dallas.

While the schools in these cities aren’t exactly the main draw in town (looking at you, Tulane), these cities offer everything necessary for an excellent fan experience. Orlando is a borderline fit in this category, but no matter how you feel about Tulsa or Hartford, those two cities don’t compare to what a place like New Orleans offers.

Even if Wichita State does end up joining The American, the conference will never even come close to the level of talent that its predecessor, the old Big East, had. It will never have the allure of Madison Square Garden in March, storied rivalries and quality basketball from top-to-bottom. Having the tournament in a major city like New Orleans or Memphis would at least give fans an opportunity to see and explore an interesting city in between tournament games. Who knows, maybe holding it in a major city could also add some more energy and prestige to the young conference? It’s worth a shot, and it sure beats anything Tulsa, Hartford or even Orlando can offer.

Will The American ever truly reach the “Power Six” level it aspires to be? It’s hard to tell now, but if the conference continues on the track it’s on now in 2017, it may be forever recognized as the Power Five’s little brother.


Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.