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USF athletic director: AAC evaluating possible expansion amidst Pac-12 chaos

TAMPA — American Athletic Conference members have spoken about the possibility of adding schools left behind during the most recent round of conference realignment.

USF athletic director Michael Kelly said Friday that he and administrators from other conference schools have been in communication with AAC commissioner Mike Aresco after six Pac-12 schools announced their departures for other conferences in recent weeks.

The remaining Pac-12 members — Washington State, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford — would be considered among the best schools left behind by this round of realignment. ESPN’s Heather Dinich first reported last week that the AAC was open to adding a combination of all four schools from the Pac-12.

“We’ve had a handful of meetings throughout the week,” Kelly said at USF’s kickoff luncheon. “Just our commissioner keeping us up to date with the best information he has and even evaluating if there’s something we’d want to do with the people who are now available to bring into our conference.”

The ACC also has explored adding Cal and Stanford during the past week, though conference presidents reportedly chose not to vote Wednesday night on whether to add the two schools, leaving them in limbo.

The AAC has been active in realignment in recent years and will new members Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-San Antonio for the 2023-24 school year.

Kelly, the former chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff, said he has been up late talking to some of his colleagues around the country to get the best information about realignment. He said the dissolution of the Pac-12 was difficult to witness as a college football fan with good friends in the conference.

After working in college football for more than 30 years, Kelly said only one thing is certain: change. Still, he feels confident USF remains poised for success. Academically, the school recently became a member of the prestigious invitation-only Association of American Universities. USF also has made significant facilities upgrades, including the grand opening of an indoor practice facility earlier this year. The Bulls are also working toward a $340 million on-campus football stadium.

Staying engaged is the best thing for the university to do now, Kelly said.

“All we can really do is stay in constant conversation with not only what’s happening now,” he said, “but what could happen.”

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