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UMass, expansion isn’t on the AAC’s agenda right now



Monday, May 12, 2014
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco isn’t ruling out future expansion, but for now he’s comfortable with the league the way it is.

The AAC is presumed to be the University of Massachusetts’ first choice for a new home either for all sports or just football after the school and the Mid-American Conference announced on Tuesday that 2015 would be UMass’ last season playing football in the MAC.

Aresco kept his comments about UMass general.

“We have a lot of respect for UMass. It’s a flagship university, a high quality northeast presence. UMass has a lot of things going for it,” Aresco said. “We don’t have any plans to expand.”

The AAC formed in the summer of 2013 as a combination of mostly football playing schools from the former Big East and Conference USA, after the Big East’s non-football playing schools broke off to start a basketball-centric conference. While the basketball schools, which are mostly smaller private Catholic institutions, kept the Big East name, the AAC’s administrative staff, including Aresco, is made up of mostly former Big East staffers, who still work in the old Big East conference office in Providence, R.I.

The AAC, which played its first season as a conference this year, won’t reach it’s expected roster of teams until 2015. Louisville and Rutgers were both in the league for 2013-14 but will leave for the Atlantic Coast and Big 10 conferences respectively.

Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina will join the league as full members in 2014-15 and Navy will become a football-only member beginning in 2015.

The AAC features Temple, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Central Florida, South Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist and Memphis.

“That’s the configuration we expect the conference to have going forward. Now you never rule out anything. We would always be, alert, in terms of expansion down the road. But I don’t know there’s going to be much realignment the next few years,” Areso said. “We think we’ll be a cohesive stable group of 12. That doesn’t rule out us thinking about expanding down the road if the right institution made sense, if there was good, academic, athletic and cultural fit. That’s not our goal right now. Our goal is to build the league and build value in football and basketball like we have in our first year.”

The AAC sent four teams to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and five football teams to bowl games. The league has tie-ins to six bowls for 2014-15.

Aresco talked about building tradition from the league’s current roster.

“We have a chance to build something. We have some strong potential in football, big markets, teams that want to win that are getting better. We have TV exposure that’s as good as anybody’s —all ESPN and CBS platforms,” Aresco said. “We need rivalries. We need to build rivalries to build and identity for the league.”

The last part of that quote should give UMass some hope. The Minutemen have had long-standing rivalries with both UConn and Temple.

Any addition to the conference would have to be approved by its board of directors, which is made up of each university’s president or chancellor.

“They have the final votes,” Aresco said. “The athletic directors would have to recommend and endorse this, along with me, for the presidents to even vote on it.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage