The American Athletic Conference is on the cusp of expanding.
The schools applying to the conference is a critical step in the formal process for new members, and the acceptance of the six schools is typically considered a formality in these situations. The process is expected to play out through the course of this week with applications sent as soon as Tuesday, sources told Yahoo Sports.
These additions would boost the AAC to a 14-team conference in football and basketball. (Navy is a football-only member and Wichita State is a full member that plays basketball but lacks a football program.) It would radically reshape Conference USA, which is poised to lose six members in key markets.
One of the guiding philosophies of the AAC’s expansion was to grow through fertile recruiting areas. The AAC expansion committee included a prominent crew of athletic directors from the conference – USF’s Mike Kelly, Memphis’ Laird Veatch, SMU’s Rick Hart and Navy’s Chet Gladchuk.
While the size of television markets is no longer as critical of a guiding principle in conference decisions, this move for the AAC allows the league’s ESPN television contract to grow promising programs through exposure. And it doesn’t hurt that they are all situated in major metropolitan areas that can rally around success. (UTSA, which is 7-0, just got ranked for the first time this week, for example.)
It’s the similar formula that helped Cincinnati emerge into a College Football Playoff contender this season, and both Houston and UCF to reach New Year’s Six bowl games in the past decade.
The new schools also offer the current crew of football schools – Temple, Memphis, Tulane, USF, East Carolina, Navy, Tulsa and SMU – an entree into some of the richest recruiting areas in the country: Houston, San Antonio, greater Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Charlotte and Birmingham.
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 State, Air Force, Colorado 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.
There are still some final details to work out. A significant boost in television money for the six schools is expected, but they are not expected to get the same share of the TV revenue that the established eight schools currently get.
Conference USA schools currently receive less than $1 million annually in television revenue. The amount they will receive is still being finalized, but the television revenue will be more than $2 million at the start of the deal and rise significantly from there. Incumbent AAC members are still expected to average about $7 million annually over the course of the current ESPN television deal, which runs through 2031-32.
The exit fee for the six schools expected to depart is roughly $3 million per school, which will give Conference USA a nice nest egg to build on when the schools leave.