American Athletic Conference (AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco was not shy about expressing his concerns about the state and future of college football during his annual Media Day press conference.
It’s no news that many issues have raised flags in the world of college football and college athletics since the end of the 2021-22 seasons. In fact, Aresco listed a large handful, including but not limited to the reorganization of the conference; name, image, and similarity deals (none); The Football Division (FBS) will likely secede from the NCAA; And college sports became very professional.
He called it a new and challenging era in college sports, something unprecedented and troubling, after years of making it. Now, Aresco sees team athletics at a pivotal point.
Here is what Aresco had to say on several topics:
Conference reorganization at FBS
“It’s been in the news. It’s sent shock waves across the college sports landscape, boiled the waters of college sports and continues to do so. It affected AAC last year and maybe again, we don’t know. Three of our members — UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston — will be leaving the conference in July 2023. We appreciate their important contributions to our conference legacy over the past decade and will enjoy their participation in competition in America this season.”
Aresco congratulated the three programs on their accomplishments last season and wish them all the best as they begin to conclude their time at AAC.
AAC will add six programs in July 2023 when it departs UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston, including: UAB, FAU, North Texas, UNC-Charlotte, Rice, and UTSA.
“These six new schools bring energy, commitment and achievement to Americans,” Aresco said. “They will raise our flag high and their competitiveness will ensure the vitality of our conference for years to come.”
Name, picture and example
“What will the college sport of the future look like and how do we want it to look like? The amateur model that it embraced for decades is gone and we can’t pretend it still exists. But, at the other end of the spectrum are fewer pros in NFL style, is that What we want? Is there a reasonable middle ground that preserves the student-athlete experience and does not make our student-athletes employees or union members? I think so. I think we can work together nationwide to stabilize the currently volatile situation.”
Aresco indicated that they may need help from Congress in this feat. He realizes that there may be skeptics when it comes to said approach and it might seem like a contradiction at this point to put something like college sports in the hands of legislators, but he thinks it’s possible to find a coordinated approach.
“NIL is here to stay and it wouldn’t be a problem if, in fact, it was really NIL, but it’s not at the moment. We’ll have to see how the groups that are created work. Maybe we can put some restrictions on them in the future, so as to ensure that NIL is rooted in a value system. A rational and fair marketplace. Otherwise, NIL pays to attract recruits and pays existing players on the roster, regardless of their real value.”
He sees pushing players as an existential challenge and seems to be heading everything up, whether we like it or not.
“College athletics has never been about paid athletes, though the benefits are plentiful and remain that way. Forces beyond our control gather strength and whatever we do in the future, we need to avoid employee status and unionization, because I think it would be disastrous.” …while supporting the absence of any real factor, we have to avoid a country-by-state mixture of pay-to-play and revenue-sharing mandates. …the increasing professionalism of our organization is evident, and we have to form a reasonable structure.”
FBS split from NCAA
“It’s a major issue which is whether the FBS conferences, All Of them, and not just some, should move away from the current NCAA governance model and govern themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all the jobs that the NCAA takes on, but it does include rule-making, post-season running, authority control and things like that. I think we should look seriously at this.
“What about the enforcement function, you might ask, which is still fundamental to the mission of the university. Can the NCAA or a separate entity handle that even if the FBS governs itself in other areas? … Football is clearly a separate and distinct entity in the NCAA.” And it could benefit from its own governance structure. With the regular season and the College Football Playoff interconnected, it might make sense to simplify the process through FBS self-management. It will be an ongoing discussion through which our conference will be clearly engaged.”
He pointed out that there is a major factor if things change, which is comprehensiveness. For him, independence has become an outdated concept and has been for a while.
“With the possibility of devolving power to the conferences, the designation of autonomy and the convention management model is no longer needed. Disappearance should be the nickname of the Group of Five (G5). This designation has been devastating and should be all FBS.”
He returns to the reorganization when he says that the recent movement in the past two years is making the concept of independence and branding of the accompanying Power Five (P5) media less relevant than it used to be. He said that if all 10 FBS conferences were viewed equally, in terms of branding, the move up and the future of American Heritage would be a more realistic possibility.
He understands that some FBS conferences will be somewhat equal to others in terms of revenue, competitiveness and other important things, but it’s normal and acceptable. He congratulated Cincinnati and Head Coach Luke Fickell on becoming the first G5 school to enter the college football playoffs and wants the schools to earn a certain standing or reputation for healthy development. He wants the same doors to open for both fifth and fifth grade schools.