Heads may shake. Eyes may roll.
Blank stares may be most prevalent of all.
But, make no mistake, with word coming out Tuesday that six current members of Conference USA -- Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and UT-San Antonio – took the first step to joining the American Athletic Conference by applying for membership, one thing should be clear:
Mike Aresco knows what he is doing.
Oh, maybe not in a harmonic, “let’s create regional rivalries that could tug at the heartstrings of longtime college football fans” kumbaya spirit, but in a business sense.
Take a look at the schools listed above that the AAC commissioner appears poised to welcome. They’re all located in large metro areas. UAB, Charlotte and UTSA are self-explanatory. FAU is near Miami, North Texas is near Dallas and Rice is in Houston.
Furthermore, these are schools that put money into football, which is the driving force for this latest round of conference realignment across the country – just as it was the last time, and the time before that. They all have quality facilities that are either spanking new (UAB’s pristine, 47,000-seat Protective Stadium just opened this fall), relatively new (Charlotte, FAU and North Texas have homes built within the last decade) or recently renovated (Rice Stadium got a whole new look in 2015; UTSA’s Alamodome had a touch-up in 2017).
With Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida – three cornerstone members of the current AAC – set to depart the conference for the Big 12, likely, in 2024, Aresco had to make a move. Opening the door to these six seems to be better than those hung up on the past or geography would instinctively feel.
UAB and Charlotte bring rising programs to the table, and UTSA finds itself ranked in the current Top 25.
Frankly, FAU brings about the possibility for a rivalry with South Florida – especially with the Owls coached by Willie Taggert, a former Bulls head coach – and North Texas is a natural one for Southern Methodist. Same with Charlotte for East Carolina. UAB could be a good one for both Memphis and Tulane.
In short, these additions to the AAC may not seem all that exciting. But they’re sound, they’re solid and, when you look beyond just the names, they make a lot of sense.
Now, if Aresco and Co. could get Army and Air Force to join Navy in the AAC as well, that would be even better. Coastal Carolina and Louisiana, a pair of up-and-comers who already rate legit on college football’s mainstream landscape, deserve courting, too.