The American Athletic Conference is going to have to look outside of the Mountain West Conference to add new teams.
Sources: Air Force and Colorado State will also be staying in the Mountain West. They had been heavily courted and considered the AAC, along with Boise State and San Diego State. All four schools will remain in the Mountain West.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) October 1, 2021
The AAC is looking for teams to replace Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Those three schools are heading to the Big 12 along with BYU after Oklahoma and Texas elected to leave the Big 12. The Big 12 is going from 10 teams to 12 by adding four teams in place of two.
American commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement after Thamel's tweet that the AAC had not officially extended invites to anyone.
“The American Athletic Conference has not offered membership to any institution," Aresco said. "Our process for considering potential members remains deliberate, strategic and focused on the continued proven success of our conference.”
We should point out that official conference invites are typically sent out after a conference knows a school will accept. The four schools heading to the Big 12 were mentioned as candidates for weeks before the Big 12 officially invited the schools. The invites were a formality; they were sent out only because the four schools were ready and willing to accept them.
Mountain West issues statement
Friday afternoon, the Mountain West issued a statement that said every member of the conference was committed to staying.
“The trailblazing Western institutions of higher education in the Mountain West Conference are proud of our academic excellence, the strength of our athletics programs and the splendor of our campuses, and today we are announcing our collective commitment to membership in the Mountain West.
The success and positive trajectories of our respective members have created opportunities for many of our universities, yet we collectively believe in the strength and shared spirit of the Mountain West and in the future possibilities for our Conference.
Close collaboration will continue as we identify the best path forward for the Mountain West within the evolving landscape of intercollegiate athletics. That will include aggressively pursuing strategic initiatives and amplifying our collective brand.
We enthusiastically look forward to continuing to provide Mountain West student-athletes with world-class academic, personal growth and athletics experiences in the nation’s top Non-Autonomy Five conference.”
American wants to be a power conference
The American has long tried to claim that it's a "Power 6" conference and belongs on the same tier as the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. It even used that line of thinking when the three aforementioned schools left for the Big 12. Aresco tried to say that the teams' departure showed the AAC was a power conference.
If it truly was, then Cincy, Houston and UCF would have wanted to stay put, right? Instead, they're leaving for the greener money pastures of the Big 12. And it's now hard to see where the AAC turns to find replacement teams.
Staying in the Mountain West makes sense for the western schools. While the AAC would have been an intriguing football conference with schools from Florida to Idaho, travel in non-revenue sports would have been a complicated logistical exercise, especially for events during the week.
Staying put in the MWC also leaves a potential Big 12 door open for a team like Boise State. The Big 12 has kept the possibility of more expansion alive as the SEC became the first Power Five conference to expand to 16 teams. Adding MWC teams in the future would be an easy way for the Big 12 to expand now that BYU is a part of the conference.
The AAC is now back to the drawing board. It could look at teams from Conference USA or the Sun Belt, but no one in either of those conferences would provide the football draw like the four teams from the Mountain West. And let's be real here — football is the main sport driving conference realignment. As the main revenue producer for athletic departments, schools with good football programs are more desirable than universities with poor ones. And if no one is willing to leave the MWC for the AAC, there are now no obvious candidates to join the conference.