THE ACC, NOT THE PLACE TO BE
Troubled times got even more troubling for the American Athletic Conference with the announcement that Temple University is cutting baseball, softball, men’s indoor and outdoor track and men’s gymnastics for budgetary reasons. The school had planned to also cut men’s and women’s crew but the city of Philadelphia stepped in and, between city funds and private foundation funding, pledged to rebuild the city boathouse that had housed the two teams. When similar athletic department cuts were announced by non football members of the old Big East, that should have been the moment the league moved to save itself by jettisoning the so called “Catholic Seven”.
Now the offshoot of the old Big East is confronted with a similar situation and the timing couldn’t be worse, coming at the moment the NCAA is confronted with a possible separation of it’s five most powerful conferences. The trouble at Temple only maginifies the troubled status of the league. The “Power Five” leagues may be willing to add a sixth league to the mix, but the new football tournament format reduces the need to do so and the structure of the AAC, once the NCAA basketball tournaments are over, won’t leave a lot to offer.
The AAC offers little upside. Seven of the 10 AAC football programs have been ranked in the top 13 in the last eight seasons, but that’s averages out to less than one a season and many of those rankings belong to teams that will be former AAC teams next season. The AAC can also boast eight women’s basketball national champions since 1995 and four men’s national champs since 1999. Unfortunately 11 of those 12 titles belong to one institution, the 12th to a soon to be former AAC school. Having played their final BCS bowl game the AAC now boasts bowl affiliations with the Belk Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl, BBVA Compass Bowl, Beef O’Brady’s Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl, all mid level games. And those are the positives presented by the AAC itself, in it’s own press release.
With Louisville and Rutgers leaving after this season the AAC will be left with only one school in the top 20 of the men’s basketball rankings and one in the football top 25, but, with the “Power Five” almost promising a continuation, if not a conclusion, of conference expansion and realignment following this academic year, Cincinnati, with the top AAC programs in both of the revenue producing sports, becomes the league’s prime target for the “Power Five” leagues.
The exit of the Bearcats would leave the AAC with no current football or men’s basketball powers while the UCONN women’s basketball team would be in the same situation it was in 20 years ago in the Big East, a power team alone in a league that gets, and deserves, no respect.
With East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa coming in as Rutgers and Louisville leave, the AAC will have just 11 teams and won’t be able to play a conference championship football game until 2015, when Navy enters in football only. With Temple and Navy the league will have at least one financially limited institution and one with recruiting limitations, not the kind of sixth power league the current “Power Five” would be looking for.
There have never been any real high times for the American Athletic Conference, but the times now are worse than most and there’s never been a better time to get out while the getting is good, provided there’s somewhere to go.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.