NEWPORT, RI — Mike Aresco stepped to the podium at the American Athletic Conference football media kickoff on Tuesday to deliver his state of the league message as he does annually.
Since his remarks before the 2018 season, Aresco has negotiated a new television package for the AAC, one that reportedly will provide the league about $1 billion over 12 years when it begins in July of 2020.
The deal could be tweaked with the potential exit of Connecticut, which has been approved for a return to the Big East, but it gives some credence to Aresco’s long-time contention that the AAC is a Power 6 conference, one that should be considered in the same sense as the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC.
As a former television executive. Aresco has been involved on both sides of the broadcasting bargaining table.
He cited ratings as one of his bargaining tools, noting that AAC teams had been involved in over 60 games in the last six years that had attracted over 2 million viewers each.
The AAC is also willing to play on Thursday or Fridays, which increases their popularity with its partners, ESPN and the CBS Sports Network.
“We’re like Jet Blue,” Aresco said of the AAC’s flexibility. “We may not do it like American or Delta.”
Aresco’s negotiating skills will mean about $83 million annually to the league or roughly $5 million per year to league members.
Central Florida favored
Central Florida’s success has also legitimized the AAC in its national perception, which also helped the new TV deal.
UCF’s designation as the preseason pick to win the AAC championship came as no surprise. The Knights have won 25 of their last 26 games and received 19 first-place votes in the East Division.
A 40-32 loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s of 2019 halted Central’s Florida’s streak.
Aresco noted that the NCAA had recognized UCF’s unbeaten team in 2017 as a national champion based on its acceptance of a metric which had the Knights rated No. 1.
Cincinnati is projected to challenge UCF in the East and was voted first on 11 ballots. The Bearcats were followed by South Florida, Temple, East Carolina and Connecticut.
Picks in the West included Memphis, Houston, Tulane, Southern Methodist, Navy and Tulsa. Memphis is looking to repeat as West champion.
UCF has topped the Tigers the last two seasons in the AAC championship game.
The AAC will have seven bowl ties annually in the 6-year span from 2020-25.
It was announced that the league will have annual berths in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth and a yet-be-named bowl in Boston.
The AAC will receive four berths each year from a set of bowls that include the Birmingham Bowl, the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, the First Responder Bowl in Dallas, the Boca Raton Bowl, the Frisco (TX) Bowl, the Cure Bowl in Orlando, the Myrtle Beach Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque.
Aresco noted that the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton was played in 1869, making the upcoming campaign the sport’s 150th anniversary.
Teams will wear patches commemorating the milestone and ESPN will have features noting the historical significance, Aresco said.
Freshwater still a possibility
Traveon Freshwater, a Class of 2019 ECU signee out of Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, has yet to join the Pirate program. Apparently, he is working on becoming academically qualified. Coach Houston is not ruling him out.
“I think we’ll know something in the coming weeks,” Houston said.
Freshwater, a defensive end, was named All-State by the Associated Press in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
No rush on UConn void
Aresco said the league will move judiciously in dealing with the potential void involving UConn.
It is a contrast to the land rush created several years ago with rumors that the Big 12 was considering expansion.
Aresco said the Huskies are not officially gone yet, and the AAC is not actively seeking a replacement.
“They have my phone number,” Aresco said of potential new members.
One of the topics that moderator Verne Lundquist presented to coaches involved safety.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said his program tries to teach proper technique. He has concerns about cut blocking.
Coach Houston said his first reaction was along similar lines. Houston said it is important for coaches at lower levels to teach proper fundamentals.
The coaches didn’t favor eliminating kickoffs in the interest of safety.