Is the American Athletic Conference Winning the Perception Battle?

The title alone¬†points to the problem. When this conference was announced, you couldn’t find a sports writer or TV analyst anywhere that gave it a fighting chance. The marquee names up and left the conference, and, perhaps worst of all, so did a brand.

It’s not an easy world to start a new conference, when so many casual fans identify with only what they’re used to. Still, the American Athletic Conference had a first year for the ages.

USF

In both football and men’s basketball, Louisville was the clear frontrunner, coming off Sugar Bowl and National Championship wins. How wonderful it is for Mike Aresco and the American that UCF knocked off a legitimate opponent in Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and UConn went on to win the national championship in hoops (men’s and women’s no less).

There are still harsh realities to face. In the new playoff era, the American Athletic Conference splits about $86 million with the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West and MAC. Sounds like decent money, right? Unless you’re comparing it to the $90 million that each of the “power” five conferences receive. Then you compare media deals… oh boy. Quick math update: The American teams each receive about $2 million in media revenue with their current ESPN/CBS deal. Add another $1.5 million from the playoff fund, and that’s $3.5 million per team in the American.

For comparison’s sake, the average ACC team will rake in about $6.5 million from the playoff fund and about $20 million from their media deal. ACC team $26.5 million, American team $3.5 million. Quite the difference.

But as it is, there’s a competitive framework in place to keep the league moving forward, and its brand and money can only increase.

Image Credit: Lost Letterman

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Should the American Athletic Conference Have Added UMass?

I think it’s pretty universally accepted that at the time they added Tulsa that they were the best card left on the table. However, rumors were spreading that the University of Massachusetts was under heavy consideration. Should the American (then Big East) have added the Minute Men instead?
Should the American have considered UMass?

Should the American have considered UMass?

It’s hard to make an argument athletically for a school that has only one season of FBS play under its belt, and a terrible one at that. But name recognition means something, and that’s why I always thought they were an interesting case.
The American is short on state flagship universities, with UConn being the only one. The conference is a collection of second-bests and under dogs in their own states. Quality schools, no doubt. But name brand flagships, they are not. Take a peak at any of the remaining “Power Conferences” and you’ll see a number of schools that are the academic and athletic flagships in their state. Look at any of the lower conferences and you’ll see they’re lacking.
The other reason UMass sounded like such a good idea is that it gets the American away from the whole Conference USA 2.0 mantra. UMass has a different feel than those schools: a New England footprint school with good hoops, a great college town in Amherst, quality academics, and loyal alums.

At the end of the day, Tulsa is probably the better bet. But UMass would have added a nice flavor, and I’m sorry they aren’t a member of the league.

Image Credit: UMass Basketball

American Enters New Era

As of yesterday, the American Athletic Conference is a real thing now. With real teams and a real website. But we know nothing is real until it’s proven on the field and court. That’s why we need a checklist of the things that need to happen for the league to get credibility over the next year.

SMU Football

1) Louisville needs to win a lot, but not win it all in football. It’s hard to deny the kind of exposure U of L is going to give the conference in its last year as a member. This has long been one of the most underrated athletic departments in the country, and it finally has the kind of attention it really deserves. People will watch the Ville on TV because it’s them and might even forget they’re in the American – which is the root of the problem. Louisville relevance for one year is good, but them winning it all spells doom for the future of this league. Cincinnati or Central Florida representation in the league’s final BCS game would go a heck of a lot further for the league than one of the games showcasing another outgoing member. Here’s to hoping the Cardinals finish 10-2 (5-2), and not 12-0.

2) Win out-of-conference games in all sports. Football is the big one here because the opportunities are so huge. Connecticut gets Michigan, USF gets Miami, Cincinnati plays Purdue, Central Florida gets a home date with South Carolina. Win even half of these games and people will stop joking about this conference really quickly. The opportunity is certainly there.

3) Put five teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It shouldn’t be too hard with Louisville on the slate for 364 more days. But this is far from a cake walk. This essentially means every team that is being heralded as a basketball power in this league (Uconn, Cincinnati, Temple, and Memphis) need to perform. In the off chance that an SMU or Central Florida decide to join the conversation, it could mean a bright future. If Louisville only joins a pair of other schools, be prepared for the dark ages.

4) No academic scandals. No more postseason bans, no NCAA probs, no recruiting violations, no SMU players receiving payrolls (Sorry, I had to). On and off the field, this conference needs to be first class.

5) Improvements in the academic standings in the US News and World Report. Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, it’s a big deal. Whether or not you agree with how schools are ranked, it’s still used for perception. And right now, the American is solidly behind the ACC, BIG, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC in academics. Alumni giving is a huge component of that, and schools with great athletics tend to do better in alumni giving (seeing the connection here?). If the schools start being recognized as great institutions, the image of the conference will only be enhanced.

Image Credit: SMU Football

Can you think of better things the league needs? Let us know below!