Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been a long year and a
strange and confusing journey, but on Monday the American Athletic
Conference finally became an official league.
As with other years, July 1 is the day in which all conference realignment
decisions and changes are officially adopted. The American Athletic Conference,
which is made up of 10 schools primarily leftover from the former Big East
Conference, joined in the action this season with its official launch.
The conference's website, theamerican.org, is up and running and most of
its member schools have already started the viral campaign to boost the
league's recognition. That is an important part of this first year for the
conference, especially in terms of football.
Over the last 10 years, the Big East had largely been pushed to the
bottom of the BCS conferences with the league diluted by departing
teams, dissipating talent and disappointing efforts in non-league games.
With Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving the Big East and now the complete
restructuring of the league, the American Athletic Conference has taken
an even bigger step back. Now the AAC more closely resembles the former
Conference USA than the powerhouse Big East Conference that enjoyed sustained
success in football in the 1990s.
Though new members like Houston and UCF add a certain level of success
with their football tradition, very few of the many programs that have
been added to the roster are likely to get the AAC the type of respect
reserved for the other power conferences.
However, despite the perceived weakness of the conference by pundits and
fans, the AAC still retains the automatic qualifier status of the former
Big East. That privilege puts it on the list with the ACC, Big Ten, Big
12, Pac-12 and SEC with each conference's champion guaranteed a spot in
one of the five BCS bowl games.
That won't last, though. With Rutgers and Louisville leaving and Tulsa and
Tulane coming in, the AAC will lose that affiliation as an AQ conference after
the 2013 season.
Luckily for the AAC, this year might be one when it has a team that could
legitimately be playing, and winning, a meaningful bowl game in January. After
all, Louisville, by virtue of its 33-23 Sugar Bowl victory over Florida last
season, already accomplished that feat.
It was an important one as Louisville is the only remaining member of the
former Big East with a BCS bowl victory. Cincinnati dropped its two trips and
Connecticut also fell short in its only appearance.
With the surge of hype that is surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
and the Cardinals this season, the AAC has a flagship program for its
inaugural football season.
After 2013, the future is less clear and therefore less promising. Tulsa,
Tulane and East Carolina come in 2014 and then Navy in 2015. However, those
schools aren't exactly in the same class as the teams they are
So while the AAC will be hoping that Louisville lives up to its immense
potential, the conference also needs a number of its other current squads to
perform at high standards.
This, obviously, is a concern the AAC is acutely aware of and one that it will
seemingly fight to refute.
"We will be competitive right away. In football, we have three teams
that won 10 games last year. The only league with more? The SEC," said
the official announcement release on the conference's website
However, that assertion includes UCF, which went 10-4 last season as a
member of Conference USA.
The past doesn't do much for the AAC football brand, though, as any
associations made with success are still tied with the Big East, and for
teams like Houston and UCF, the C-USA. The AAC desperately needs teams
to make strong statements in the win column this season.
Another key piece of ensuring a smooth transition will be making sure
the AAC is seen in the same national spotlight as the former Big East
and the types of conferences it hopes to be connected with.
That shouldn't be too big of an issue as the AAC signed television deals
with both ESPN and CBS while also having a number of high-profile
programs on the non-league schedule. Those include Temple's trip to
Notre Dame, Connecticut hosting Michigan, and SMU getting a shot at Johnny
Manziel and Texas A&M.
However, as it's been said, just being in those types of games won't be
enough. Winning and winning often, especially by teams that are in for
the long haul, is the quickest and most efficient way for the AAC to
raise its legitimacy. Otherwise, the conference may be doomed to fall even
further down the FBS food chain.
The Sports Network