Oct 21, 2021
ESPN News Services
Six schools — Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, UTSA, Rice and UAB — have accepted invitations to join the American Athletic Conference, the league announced Thursday.
No date has been set for the schools to join the conference, but a source told ESPN that the earliest they could join would be the 2023-24 season.
“I think they will definitely take great advantage of the exposure and the platforms that are going to be provided by this conference,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said of the additions. “So we look forward, down the road, and we’re not certain when they’re going to come in yet. That’s still to be decided.”
Once all the announced realignment shuffles out, the additions would give the American 14 teams in football and basketball. Aresco conceded that growing to 14 was a way for a conference that has become a feeder league for the Power 5 to be prepared for future poaching.
“We decided that there was strength in numbers,” Aresco said. “We also looked around and said, ‘You know, there are some schools that we might be interested in later on, why not, you know, think about taking them now?'”
The American is replacing Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, which were accepted to join the Big 12 last month after that conference learned it was losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC.
According to AAC bylaws, those schools’ exit date would be July 1, 2024, though Aresco told ESPN in mid-September that the league would be willing to negotiate an earlier exit fee to accommodate their departures.
The schools will join American holdovers East Carolina, Memphis, Navy (football only), South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State (which does not compete in football). The additions will give the American four members in Texas. The league office recently relocated to the Dallas area after being headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island.
The six schools are all leaving Conference USA, leaving it with eight members. The Sun Belt has said it is interested in expanding beyond its current 10 football members, and some of Conference USA’s remaining eight schools would be geographic fits.
A request for comment from Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod by The Associated Press was not immediately returned. Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill told the AP that the conference is feeling no pressure to act now that the American has made its move.
The American was born in 2013 from the downfall of Big East football, rebuilding around mostly Conference USA schools. The American emerged as the strongest of the Group of 5 conferences when it comes to football during the College Football Playoff era. Five times in seven seasons, the American has earned the New Year’s Six bowl spot that goes to the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion.
But four of those championships were won by the schools now heading to the Big 12, and No. 2 Cincinnati is positioned be the first team from outside the Power 5 to make a serious run at the College Football Playoff.
Aresco is not about to disown the unbeaten Bearcats.
“Cincinnati if, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but if they make the playoffs or they do something remarkable, they will have done it in the American Athletic Conference,” he said.
Information from ESPN’s Heather Dinich was used in this report.