The AAC is better than anyone expected. UCONN won the national title in women's and men's basketball, the AAC finished with five top-25 men's basketball teams last year, UCF had an amazing year in football, and the list goes on. That being said - The AAC just doesn't have the star power of the bigger conferences, and unfortunately that matters. For example, last year we played Purdue at home. I don't think it is a stretch to say Purdue has been a sub-par football program of late. However, the star power of a big school like Purdue sold out Nippert stadium. And when we played better schools without the star power of Purdue later that year, Nippert was far from sold out.
To set the stage, here is a quote from Big 12 commissioner speaking to the Orlando Sentinel (Link) a month ago:
"There may be some opportunity for us to have a postseason championship with us just having ten [schools] down the road if de-regulation goes through. The other side of it is, that at some point I suppose, we could add two members or four members – I would never say never. But right now, our distribution is the largest in college athletics because we’re only splitting it 10 ways. Anything else would dilute it and I don’t blame our members for not being interested in doing it. Right now there are a couple of presidents and a couple of ADs that probably would advocate for adding somebody if we could find the right fit. I don’t know if there would be a majority that would feel that way."
We have heard the rumors of a move over the last few years. Unfortunately, they have went no where. Every nationally televised Bearcat game you watch nowadays the announcers inevitably discuss how Cincinnati was the team "left out" of the Power 5 conferences. Well, it seems things may be changing... and soon...
In a post yesterday (Link), C. Austin Cox broke a realignment scheme by the Big 12 that actually makes some sense for everyone involved. The Big 12 may be adding ECU, Cincinnati, USF, and UCF to create a new Eastern Division with our old buddies in West Virginia. This makes sense for a few reasons:
- West Virginia. WV currently gets screwed with having to ship their teams to Texas, Oklahoma, etc... It costs them a lot of money. The Big 12 even initially promised (maybe even guaranteed) bringing in some East coast schools to help WV with travel costs, and it seems like that might be happening.
- New Markets. USF, UCF, ECU, and Cincinnati all offer a vastly expanded market to the Big 12. The Big 12 has wanted a piece of the Florida pie for a while, and the addition of UC and ECU give them a nice added bonus with Ohio and the Carolinas, respectively.
- Championship. I know. I know. The Big 12 has been adamant about how they don't need a conference championship game. I call BS. With only four teams in the playoff, the best of your conference needs to be able to separate themselves from the other Power 5's best. To put it simply, a one loss Alabama conference champion sounds better than a one loss Oklahoma regular season champion. The conference championship also gives the selection committee the ability to see your best teams perform with the lights on late in the season. This can then help them avoid bad games (e.g. Bama vs. Notre Damn).
Usually I would ignore rumors such as this, but one thing and one thing only makes me believe in it, and that is the behavior of AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco. He is in panic mode and is currently renegotiating the television deals in an effort to keep the four flagship schools. Also, he is seeking a GOR. I am not sure exactly what a GOR is, but it seems to somehow tie up teams who want to leave a conference. If I figure it out I will edit this section, but at this point I don't want to guess.If you know, please let me know in the comments along with a source.
It also seems that the Big 12 caught wind of Aresco's plans and is now looking to accelerate the process. Specifically, they are looking to make a move in the next four weeks!!
Indeed, the Big 12 may not have been impressed with the Bearcat's football performances this year, but Cincinnati is still a very attractive university. The simple truth is that Cincinnati has a well established basketball program with decades of history, a growing football program with significant promise (e.g. Gunner Kiel, Nippert Renovations), and is probably one of, if not the best school available academically. I thought that last piece mattered more, but with some of the decisions of the Power 5 conferences over the last few years (I won't call out names) I realized I was very very wrong. Needless to say, it can't hurt that Cincinnati is the #3 Up and Coming University in the country.
With all that being said, these are just rumors. We have been here before, and have been left disappointed. It is nice to know that at least our hat is in the ring. At a bad time, I hope this lifted your spirits as much as it did mine. Hopefully we will have Gunner back soon (preferably this weekend) and can start feeling good about ourselves again. For now keep your fingers crossed and hope that Santa, Tommy T., and Mick are hard at work lobbying to the Big 12.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna