AAC commissioner Mike Aresco went on the offensive Wednesday during the conference's media day by denying any discussions with ESPN to poach teams from the Big 12.
In a CBS Sports report, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of actively engaging the AAC to pursue "3-5" teams to join the conference after the SEC voted to admit Texas and Oklahoma as members in 2025.
CBS Sports later reported the Big 12 believed the AAC is looking to take all eight remaining teams.
Aresco said that while the AAC has consulted with its television and business partners for its own issues, he called it a "completely unfounded and grossly irresponsible accusation" that the conference would collude with ESPN to discuss realignment issues.
"Our conference has never strategically aligned or plotted, if you will, with ESPN to influence conference structures," Aresco said. "We wouldn't do that, ESPN has never done that and would not do it."
When asked later if he's reached out to any Big 12 teams, Aresco said that he had not but declined to say if any teams reached out to him. He reaffirmed that the AAC is not looking at realignment or attempting to take teams.
Conference realignment has dominated preseason chatter as practices begin this week. Memphis starts Friday in coach Ryan Silverfield's second full season.
Aresco said the AAC remains stable and in a strong position regardless of what other conferences do. He praised Cincinnati's run to the Peach Bowl last season as well Memphis winning the men's NIT basketball championship and Houston reaching the men's Final Four.
He also praised the College Football Playoff board recommended the playoff expand to 12 teams. With the AAC sending UCF, Memphis and Cincinnati to New Year's Six bowl games in the past four seasons, Aresco said expansion is "a meritocratic approach" that gives more teams a chance to compete for a national championship.
"It will also energize college football, I believe, as so many more teams will become relevant and I think it's going to likely lead to higher ratings," Aresco said. "I'm all for the process moving ahead if, in fact, there is strong support for it."
AAC COVID-19 protocols
Aresco said the AAC will not reschedule games that can't be played if one team is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. The game will be considered a forfeit.
He also said the conference will have different COVID-19 protocols this season. Teams will not be tested three times a week during game weeks as they were last season and vaccinated players, as of now, will not be tested compared to unvaccinated players.
Aresco added the conference's medical advisory group will meet next week to discuss updated CDC guidelines surrounding the Delta variant. He's also advocating for teams to reach a 90-100% vaccination rate and be an example both on their campuses and in the communities in help defeat the pandemic.
"It's imperative that we vaccinate as many of our student-athletes as possible," Aresco said. "We want everyone vaccinated. We're doing pretty well, we're getting up there in numbers but our ability to play a full, uninterrupted season may well depend on it."
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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: AAC commissioner Mike Aresco denies plotting with ESPN to raid Big 12