When the Big 12 announced that it would be adding Cincinnati, UCF and Houston a few weeks back, it was clear that the American Athletic Conference would have to make a move. While rumors about potential additions to the league swirled in the time since, it remained unclear who exactly would be joining.
The AAC provided clarity Thursday, announcing that UAB, Rice, UTSA, Charlotte, North Texas and Florida Atlantic would be supplanting the three departures.
“This is a strategic expansion that accomplishes a number of goals as we take the conference into its second decade,” commissioner Mike Aresco said in a press release. “We are adding excellent institutions that are established in major cities and have invested in competing at the highest level.”
Bleh. As if being left out of the initial Big 12 expansion did not sting enough already, the uninspiring expansion announcement almost felt like salt being rubbed in the wound for Memphis.
This is not meant to take away from the six schools being added. It just feels like what made the AAC so interesting the past few years suddenly is no longer there. Even in years where Memphis was not in the thick of the group of five contenders, it still felt like a safe bet that at least one AAC team would be fighting for a spot in a New Year's Bowl game every year.
Take last year for example. Cincinnati took Georgia down to the wire in the Peach Bowl and finished the season ranked eighth in the final AP Poll. Performances like that do wonders for a conference with ambition like the AAC seemingly has. While it cannot be ruled out that the new additions are simply not capable of achieving those heights, it feels almost guaranteed they will need time to acclimate before they are ready to take that step up. For schools like Memphis, which have been trending upward, that may be an amount of time that they simply do not have.
The time was here for the AAC to be bold and aggressive in its expansion. Instead, they poached six Conference USA teams and pointed to television markets as its primary reasoning. Okay, that is fine. Cool. However, it almost certainly is not a good look for the long-term growth potential of the league if that is the best they can come up with.
What is being called "strategic" feels more like throwing a bunch of darts at a board and seeing what sticks. With the Big 12 seemingly still eyeing expanding again down the line, Memphis must do everything it can to assure they are not left out the next time around. No man’s land is the last place they want to find themselves. If it does not work out with the Big 12, that is exactly where they will be.
The AAC officially announced the addition of six teams last week to mixed reaction.