On Monday, the American Athletic Conference rolled out the red carpet with a seaside clambake that launched its annual football media days in Newport, Rhode Island.
On Tuesday, AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco delivered a ringing 30-minute, 4,717-word manifesto highlighted by his declaring, “I scoff at the term ‘non-power conference’ being applied to us.”
And then on Thursday, in the preseason coaches poll, no team from the AAC — or any of the other four “Group of Five” leagues, for that matter — cracked the Top 25.
That includes Central Florida, which finished No. 10 last year and which returns nine starters from a defense that was 19th nationally in points allowed. The Knights are No. 28 — a spot behind Florida, which went 4-8 in 2013 and was last seen being pummeled 37-7 by Florida State.
That’s a Rodney Dangerfield-level lack of respect.
Maybe the 62 coaches, or their proxies, who vote in the poll confused UF for UCF. It could happen.
The point is, as flawed as the coaches poll is — it justifiably wasn’t retained as part of the new College Football Playoff’s standings formula — and as much as Aresco champions his league, which includes newcomer Tulane, the AAC isn’t going to be counted among the big boys just because he cites, among others, St. Francis of Assisi, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Ric Flair.
It’ll take more than that.
“You have to beat the best to be the best,” Aresco said, paraphrasing “The Nature Boy.”
The AAC will get its chances this year. No league’s nonconference opponents’ winning percentage from 2013 is higher than the AAC’s .556. Tulane is playing three teams from the big five conferences for the first time since 2006.
But success on the field won’t be enough. The “Power Five” leagues — the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 — already control the CFP far more than they ever did the BCS. They also command far more regular-season TV money than before.
Tulane knocking off Rutgers, which the Green Wave did in 2010, isn’t going to disrupt the space-time continuum.
And there’s no Scott Cowen out there threatening legal and/or legislative action to gain more access. Everyone has been placated with more money.
Not that the situation might change one day. College football is constantly in a state of flux.
Just two years ago, the AAC didn’t exist.
But Aresco, a former executive vice president of CBS, managed to make a clean break with the non-football members of the Big East (who took the old name with them), lure seven schools from Conference USA to go with the three remaining Big East schools, plus returnee Temple, to form a renamed and revamped league. He lured Navy as a football-only member starting in 2015 to score a conference championship game and secured TV deals with ESPN and CBS that exchanged exposure for the big bucks the “Power Five” are getting.
Compared to C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, who watched his league devolve into irrelevancy, Aresco’s a “Sharknado” of activity. Even though he’s smart enough to know the odds are daunting, at least he’s out there fighting.
“Mike is passionate about the game,” said Fox’s Tim Brando, who worked under Aresco for most of Brando’s 18 years at CBS. “Mike’s lawyering background really came in handy during the Catholic schools’ separation from the Big East and in general fighting and battling for the things that needed to be taken care of. I think a lot of people thought his conference was on death’s door. He may have lost the Big East brand, but he’s gone out and created a new brand.”
To be sure, the league’s guaranteed bowl berths are weak — Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, anyone? And the preferred first reference — The American — seems truncated.
More importantly there’s not a football “program” in the bunch. Cincinnati is the only school on a three-year bowl streak and UConn is the only flagship school of the state.
But Brando’s point is made.
A little good fortune in the past few months has helped. UCF, using the Big East’s final BCS berth, upset Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. And Connecticut won the men’s and women’s basketball national championships.
Aresco cites those events repeatedly and felt they were worth featuring on the inside cover of this year’s media guide.
“It has truly been a storybook year,” he said Monday.
So far, so good. But now the really hard part begins.
The future of college football’s power structure will further come into focus Thursday when the NCAA Board of Directors is expected to approved autonomy for the “Power Five” on several governance issues.
The American has pledged to match the “Power Five” in financial issues, such as funding scholarships to include the full cost of attendance and four-year scholarships instead of renewable annually, while leaving matters such as paying for trips for parents to bowl games up to the schools.
But the league is adamantly opposed to letting the “Power Five” increase the number of football scholarships from 85 to 95 and to allow transfers from the other FBS schools to play without having to sit out a year. Such actions would widen the gap between the groups to unbridgeable dimensions.
And instead of the esprit de corps displayed by everyone at Newport, there will be even more back-door maneuvering by schools like UConn, Cincinnati and UCF to wrangle membership in the “Power Five” club.
If the realignment frenzy of the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that loyalty in college sports is in short supply.
But chances are, a year from now, everyone will be back in Newport.
Would you please pass the lobster?