American Athletic Conference to have divisional play in 2015 _lowres

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson, whose team moves to the American Athletic Conference this fall, said he'd like for the Green Wave to play its closest conference rivals annually.

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Credit the effect of being confined to a meeting room while golf or a boating excursion in the Atlantic beckoned.

At any rate, the athletic directors of the American Athletic Conference at their spring meeting Thursday moved up their final decision on division play for football starting in 2015 to Friday rather than waiting until the league’s preseason media days in July as planned.

“We’re getting pretty close,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said before hitting the Ritz-Carlton’s seaside links himself. “I think getting all of the coaches into the room and hearing everybody’s thoughts brought us closer to a consensus.”

While Aresco said an East-West split is the preferred plan, there is a strong possibility that Navy, which becomes a football-only member of the AAC in 2015, will be in the West while Cincinnati would play in the East.

That would line up the Midshipmen with Tulane, which joins the conference in all sports this year, as well as Houston, SMU, Tulsa and Memphis. The East would consist of Cincinnati, Central Florida, South Florida, East Carolina, Connecticut and Temple.

“Texas is our No. 1 state for players,” Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “So we’d prefer to play at either Houston or SMU every year.

“No plan is perfect, and we’ll be happy wherever they put us.”

Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he was fine with the plan as long as it meant that the Green Wave would play its closest rivals every year.

“We don’t need to be playing Connecticut or Temple every year,” he said. “They’re just not our natural rivals. We need to build rivalries with the schools that are closest to us.”

Aresco said there had been some discussion of not having divisions so that the league’s two top teams would make the conference championship game, which also begins in 2015, but that was discarded in favor of divisions.

“That may be a necessity in the SEC where you have Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia,” Aresco said. “But we don’t have that situation.”

Also, there was some concern about the AAC’s three private schools — Tulane, Tulsa and SMU — all being in the same division, but that was determined not to be a factor.

Aresco added that no matter how the divisional split winds up, the schedule will have a 5-3 format, meaning a team’s nondivisional opponents will change every two years and there will no permanent cross-division foes.

The league had previously announced that the conference championship games will be played on home fields, although the tiebreakers have not been determined.

There is no championship game this season because the AAU will have only 11 members, one less than the NCAA requires.

Welcome, Middies

Navy joining the American for football only ends 122 years of football independence for the Midshipmen, but Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said the move was necessitated by the changing dynamic of college football.

“For us, independence is outdated,” he said. “I can’t give the same speech I gave 10 years ago about why it was so important to us.

“Scheduling and TV contracts are being monopolized by the conferences, and we felt that we had to be in there somewhere in order to be able to maintain the stature we’ve enjoyed for so many years.”

Still, conference membership could pose an interesting situation for Navy.

The AAC championship game will be played a week before the Army-Navy game, which has become the nation’s final regular-season game.

That means the Middies could be playing for the conference title with the Army game — which ranks above all others on the schedule — still to be played.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Gladchuk said. “We’re the Navy. We meet any challenge.”

Tulane baseball decision near

While Dickson was enjoying the ambience Thursday, newly arrived chief operating officer of the athletic department Barbara Burke and coaching headhunter Jeff Schimmel have been paring down what Dickson called “a considerable” list of those interested in the Wave’s baseball job.

“I thinking we’re going to be a lot closer after this weekend,” Dickson said. “You want to move quickly, but you also balance that with making sure you make the right hire. Historically, this is one of our strongest programs. That and going into a new league make it every important to us.”

Dickson said Jake Gautreau, who served as interim coach after Rick Jones went on a medial leave that ultimately forced his retirement, would be among those interviewed.

Sampson, Price Reunited

New Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson ranks St. Augustine graduate Hollis Price at the top of his favorite all-time players.

So it was no surprise that Sampson has brought in the former All-America guard at Oklahoma to be his director of player development with the Cougars.

“Hollis’ title is ‘Whatever I need to do,’ ” Sampson said. “He’s not going to sit around and wait for somebody to ask him.

“He’s a kind of special assistant to all of our assistant coaches. He’s kind of a development guy and he’s definitely a mentor to our players.”

After his career at Oklahoma ended in 2002, Price played in Europe for several years. He was most recently an assistant with the Texas Legends of the D-League.

“Fondness is a conservative word for how I feel about Hollis,” Sampson said. “I love everything about him.

“Hollis is the winningest player in the history of Oklahoma. There are some things that our players face which are uncharted waters for them, but there’s nothing he hasn’t already conquered.”