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The American Athletic Swoops In: Or Realignment Talk, Cont.

The last time we mentioned realignment we speculated at the state of the leagues’ members and the likelihood that they were going to move or reconfigure themselves. We missed on a couple, and given the recent reports from Pete Thamel it looks like the AAC is going to take Charlotte, North Texas, Florida Atlantic, Rice, UAB, and UTSA.

What happened? Well, instead of the AAC raiding the Big XII, it was Cincy, Houston, and UCF are all joining the other way (in addition to BYU). The rumors were that the AAC was going to look to maybe UAB, and some MWC teams to fill in the gaps. What happened instead, according to these reports, is that Mike Aresco and the league committee for realignment decided on a mix of media markets and recruiting hotbeds.

That left out good programs like Marshall, La Tech, and ones with lots of history but recent droughts like Southern Miss. It also means that my assumption that FIU and FAU being a packaged deal is simply not true. Perhaps the AAC’s familiarity with travel to and from UCF meant everyone was fine with simply replacing one Florida program with another.

It sure looks like this is the classic play for media markets, the justification for the current form of CUSA. However, Thamel says it is slightly different:

The AAC’s move comes on the heels of a thwarted effort to lure four Mountain West schools into the league. While the AAC never technically offered Boise StateAir ForceColorado State and San Diego State, there was an extended courtship that was followed by a vocal commitment to staying in the Mountain West Conference. This move would limit the ability of the Mountain West to enter Texas, as it gives the AAC four schools in the state and no obvious options for the Mountain West to add.

It is something like a protection move, while also sealing up major markets and recruiting areas. So if programs in big cities get hot — UTSA, et al — it would mean an easy way to level up attention. Cincinnati, Houston, Orlando are replaced with (more) Dallas, Houston (although massively less popular), San Antonio, and Birmingham. I can see the logic.

For the programs leaving, the buyout is roughly $3MM, or two-years’ distribution. In return, the teams agree to get a lower buyout that fully-fledged members of the AAC. So instead of the $7MM, they will receive about $2MM and it will increase over time. In short, this is a better deal financially for the CUSA teams leaving, and the AAC teams get to hold a little leverage over the new guys for a while.

If you are the CUSA West programs, this is a clear win. NT, UTSA, Rice and UAB are getting more money for playing essentially the same schedule but swapping UTEP with Tulsa, and Tech with Memphis. Also everyone adds Tulane. In 2013, Tulane and ECU were CUSA programs, and so none of this is overly unfamiliar. The future AAC is largely the pre-2013 CUSA, without USM 1.

WKU, USM, Tech, UTEP and Marshall all expected or hoped this would go differently. The Hilltoppers spend a lot on basketball, and have won CUSA multiple times in football. They are left in a sprawling league (still) and no clear place to go. ODU’s president seems like he is all-in on being a CUSA member. This all could represent an opportunity to reconfigure the league into one that benefits ODU and its eastern-location.

The Sun Belt is strong (perhaps for having shed the NT, WKU, FIU/FAU, MTSU squads?) and seems like a natural destination for Marshall, USM, and even La Tech. The issue with the Bulldogs is the historical dislike at working with the other Louisiana programs. ULM and ULL have had success in recent years. Competing with those teams adds a fun dimension to game that say, a game vs UTEP does not.

As of this writing, the aforementioned 6 members are current CUSA members. There are at least two years left of CUSA membership as well. We will be here, until we aren’t.

EDIT: This part is new

We encountered McMurphy’s post a little later. A couple of tidbits were interesting and confirmed my prior suspicions:

Before the AAC news broke, sources told the Action Network that officials at North Texas, Rice, UTSA and UTEP had contacted the Mountain West about joining the conference. North Texas and Rice had the most serious discussions, but ultimately, the Mountain West decided to remain at 12 schools, sources said.

It made sense given the situation. Texas is centrally located and it isn’t that far to the MWC programs. Essentially flipping all those east coast trips for west coast ones was the idea. Ultimately, MWC programs didn’t’ want the AAC and MWC didn’t want CUSA schools.

A hilarious tidbit is that CUSA hired a couple of consultants to give them … the obvious:

Conference USA even hired former Big Ten commish Jim Delany and former Big 12 commish Kevin Weiberg in a consulting role regarding realignment options for the league. They worked with C-USA officials and schools. Let’s just say, their audience was underwhelmed.

McMurphy quotes a source asking incredulously, “We’re actually paying for this?”

I about laughed out of my seat.

Beyond that in all of our realignment discussions on this site we have noted that egos and politics prevent some “obvious” solutions from being chosen. Apparently, CUSA declined the Sun Belt’s offers to ‘merge’ the conferences in part because Louisiana Tech did not want to be associated with the other Louisiana schools. This is something we’ve noted previously. Also the old Sun Belt schools (NT, MTSU, WKU, FAU and FIU ) did not want to be “back” in that league either.

Someone noted that desperation makes people reconsider their priorities. They specifically call out UTSA, but we’ve long wondered if SMU would like to be associated with NT, as previous reports and rumors suggested that SMU denied previous NT applications to join up in that version of CUSA.

  1. There is a lot to say about USM getting left out of this.

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