New era begins with The American
Ten schools get new start in reinvented, rebranded conference
After enduring the upheaval of conference realignment and months of planning and negotiations, the reinvented and rebranded American Athletic Conference officially begins a new era on July 1.
Members of the old Big East Conference, looking to survive a split with the Catholic 7, will meld with a mix of newcomers to form the new league, which will be known as The American. The exodus of the Catholic 7 -- a group of non-football playing schools that included Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova -- last winter prompted a strategy of redirection for the remaining members of the Big East and the schools slated to join the conference in the next couple years.
“Our goal was to stay together and to create a new, innovative and interesting conference that could challenge the five so-called power conferences that we were one of as the old Big East,” Mike Aresco said. “We felt that would fight that battle, surprise people, exceed expectations, stay together and develop an identity.”
When the league decided to split into two different directions, football and non-football members in December 2012, Aresco -- who was serving as the commissioner of the Big East at the time -- and the school presidents and athletics directors scrambled to find some cohesion for the football-playing schools remaining when the dust cleared.
“At that point, we knew we had a core group that wanted to stay together,” Aresco said. “There were a lot of rumors at the time, but we decided to ignore all that and roll up our sleeves. If we could accomplish several things, we could have a viable league going forward and a strong one that would have the ability to exceed expectations.”
In 2013-14, football-playing holdovers from the old Big East -- Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville and Rutgers -- will welcome SMU, UCF, Memphis and Houston, formerly of Conference USA, along with Temple, which played Big East football and will become a full-fledged member of the new conference.
After this academic year, Louisville will leave The American for the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Rutgers will head to the Big Ten; but East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa will make the move to The American from C-USA to boost the league to 11 full-fledged members. In 2015, Navy will be added as a football-only member.
While some fans may need a flowchart to keep track of the new alignment, Aresco and member school officials concentrated on finding some stability as a reinvented college athletic conference. The first order of business was addressing a financial settlement with the Catholic 7, which was fair and amicable to both parties.
In mid-March, a financial agreement was reached -- giving the old Big East and the incoming members a $100 million settlement, while handing over the Big East name and the opportunity to play the men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden to the Catholic 7.
|Rutgers||New Brunswick, N.J.|
|South Florida||Tampa, Fla.|
With that major hurdle out of the way, the “new” conference landed television deals with ESPN and CBS before the end of March.
“While the money wasn’t what we projected -- with the schools that we lost we didn’t think it would be -- but it was enough for now,” Aresco said. “The TV deals ended up giving up unprecedented exposure with some of the best media companies in the world. ESPN is going to do 58 of our 66 football games beginning in 2014 on national platforms, including three on ABC. And then there is CBS for basketball, and you always want CBS -- one of the NCAA tournament carriers -- to broadcast basketball.”
There was also the question of a new name after relinquishing the Big East moniker.
“We ultimately gave up the name because it was a double-edged sword,” Aresco said. “We knew it had history and tradition behind it, but it was more basketball than football as a brand. We knew our basketball would be good and we wanted it to be important, but we needed to build our football, too. In a modern conference that plays both sports, you really need strong football. We felt it wasn’t necessarily the strongest football brand, and we might be better off with a fresh start and fresh name and identity.”
After looking at a list of 200 possible names, in April, the group decided upon one they believed would stand the test of time, be remembered and sound like it had been around for a while -- the American Athletic Conference, or The American. On May 30, a new logo was unveiled, featuring a simple, aspirational, clean “A” displayed in red, white and blue. The conference’s new web site -- www.TheAmerican.org -- was launched on July 1.
In June, the league announced sites for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The men’s will be held at the FedExForum in Memphis and the women’s will take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The conference is still in negotiations regarding football bowl tie-ins, but will vie for a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff. The highest ranked team among The American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, and Mid-American will be included in the New Year’s Day system.
Aresco is looking forward to leading a more balanced conference in terms of sponsored sports, and an equitable split of the conference revenues going forward.
“Eleven of our 12 schools in 2015 when Navy joins will be playing both basketball and football plus all the Olympic sports, so there is not going to be that tension that sometimes exists when there are schools with different interests and really different outlooks,” Aresco said. “Everybody in our league now will be on the same page, and I think that will help.”
In the immediate future, The American will need to develop its’ identity, and is hoping some of the regional rivalries like UCF-USF and SMU-Houston will facilitate the process.
“We really think we can be a good conference and a conference that can challenge at the highest levels,” Aresco said. “If you look at who we are, we have good, nationally-relevant basketball programs. We think we have the makings of a very good basketball conference already, and we think in football we’re underrated. We’ve got teams with history and tradition, but not necessarily have gotten the exposure they will get now.”
In six short months, the reinvented conference has achieved stability and laid the groundwork for a successful future.
“In the end, when you have a situation like this, you can’t use difficulty as an excuse,” Aresco said. “You just have to get things done because we had a bunch of really good schools whose aspirations were riding on this. We still have significant challenges ahead and we know that … we’ve got a lot to prove, but we do think we can exceed the expectations. Now, we’re looking forward to the competition.”