While The American would survive any coming split of Division 1 football from two to three divisions (i.e. Division 1-A, 1-B, 1-C), the goal of the AAC shouldn’t be to only avoid relegation to Division 1-B but to try and rejoin the Power Conferences that it was so recently a member of, because starting in 2014 the AAC is dropped from the “BCS Conference” ranks and will be sharing a major bowl berth with the other “lower tier” leagues of FBS. The American had better start offering comfy homes to the better member institutions of those conferences or be forced to watch those smaller conferences as they catch-up.
As has been stated before, it’s all but impossible to go shopping for new conference members from any of the Power 5 conference unless some unforeseen implosion happens to one of them. So, let’s look at four schools that The American can look at adding that would bring enough to the table to help strengthen the AAC, not dilute it:
1) Texas State is a former very good FCS/1-AA school is located in San Marcos, Texas, one of the fastest growing communities in the USA according to the last census. They have a history of success, a nice stadium, and the name “Texas State” sounds big time which might help the AAC’s reputation. The Bobcats of Texas State would also make good all-sports geographical rivals for Tulsa, SMU and Houston, keeping that faction of The American happy.
2) Keeping UConn happy would be easy by adding UMass. A recent move of their football team to FBS/1-A (putting the Minutemen into the MAC for football only) would seem to signify that UMass is ready for the big-time. UMass at Amherst is (according to the schools website) the largest university in New England and one of America’s best college towns. Offering them full membership would be a major coup for The American, and as with Texas State, UMass is another major-sounding program that will fit in nice geographically.
3) Next is looking to the Sun Belt’s best football team, Arkansas State. With quality basketball and football arenas, and a decent men’s basketball program, the flagship member of the Arkansas State University system is a program (much like current AAC member UCF) that is definitely “on the rise” – a power conference will be looking for them soon enough. ASU also situated right near AAC member Memphis and fits into the same region as Tulsa and the Texas schools.
4) Lastly, admittedly a bit of a homer pick for your author, is NIU. Northern Illinois may not be willing to leave the MAC, but after back-to-back big football seasons, beating two Big Ten teams this year, a BCS berth last year (don’t forget them flirting with the BCS in 2003 also) there is plenty of impetus for some conference to start calling, and The American is the one that would need NIU the most. Adding NIU doesn’t give you Chicago (trust me, DeKalb is a nice town but it’s in the cornfields) but the Big Ten’s Northwestern doesn’t have the stranglehold on Chicago that it wishes it did, so NIU could keep playing a game a year at Soldier Field for exposure. And if the Huskies don’t want to leave the MAC, football-only membership (maybe coming in the same year as Navy joins the AAC?) might work out nice.
[sources/learn more: see the links, or please visit the four schools (Texas State, Arkansas State, UMass, NIU)’s individual websites]