Commissioner Aresco has said over and over that the American Athletic Conference needs to be built around football. No surprise, of course, when you consider that seems to control the money. But the American is completely devoid of any football heavy hitters – at least at first glance. So it got me thinking, are there more basketball or football schools in this reinvented league.\? Let’s look forward to how the league will look in 2015 for our study.
We’ll consider factors like program winning percentage, attendance, reputation, recruiting power, and the eye test.
Central Florida. I really do believe that this athletic department is a sleeping giant. The school is just gargantuan (over 50,000 students), the recruiting bed is hot, the facilities are great and now they’re in a league that will give them greater exposure. In the grand scheme of things, this university is pretty new to college athletics and things could change one way or the other. But with their football program scheduling games across the pond to play Big Ten opponents, I’ll give football the edge.
Cincinnati. Can’t deny what the Bearcats have done on the gridiron. Pre-Big East Bearcat football was abysmal. 14,000 fans came out to watch struggling 4-7 teams host middling Conference USA programs. But exposure, a nicer payout, and a string of quality coaches elevated the program considerably (five 10-win seasons in the past six years).
Still, this is a basketball school. Without doubt. It’s produced a plethora of key NBA players, final four teams, and two national championships. Hoops in the Queen City is a big deal. I’d be curious to see where this is in 10 years.
Connecticut. Besides a Fiesta Bowl appearance and loss following an 8-4 season, this school is really only a basketball school. And a mighty fine one, at that. Three national championships in men’s hoops and an unprecedented eight championship wins in women’s.
UConn is synonomyous with college hoops, and even with Jim Calhoun retired, this will be a brand and force to be reckoned with for years to come in basketball.
East Carolina. Our first sure-fire football school on the list. The Pirates will come into the league and immediately showcase the best fan support amongst league members, not to mention a few marquee victories in recent memory.
The fan support is almost an anomaly in a way; they haven’t had the kind of success that would warrant 45,000+ fans to show up every Saturday, and the school shares territory with four other ACC schools in the same state. Still, they make it happen. And the basketball program doesn’t (1004-1018 total record).
Houston. Things could be on the up and up for this school. New league and a shiny new football stadium could mean greater exposure, recruiting and performance for all sports. But, historically, basketball clearly has the edge here – if for no other reason than its great run in the early 80s when it was a two-time runner up in the tournament.
Image Credit: ECU Football