The American Athletic Conference has already lost eight non-conference games stemming from two Power 5 conferences in the Big 10 and Pac-12 shifting to conference-only models this fall. East Carolina […]
The American Athletic Conference has already lost eight non-conference games stemming from two Power 5 conferences in the Big 10 and Pac-12 shifting to conference-only models this fall. East Carolina University lost a match-up with Norfolk State after the MEAC suspended fall sports earlier this month.
In the coming days and weeks, both of those numbers could grow as the remaining Power 5 leagues debate the future of their scheduling models. As things stand right now, the AAC still has three non-conference tilts with both the ACC and Big 12 on the books, as well as two contests against SEC competition.
“We don’t know ultimately what’s going to happen,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Thursday. “We think the SEC, the ACC, the Big 12, certainly have said they want to play football and we’re hoping they play non-conference games…The Big 10 and Pac-12 have obviously made a decision already not to play non-conference games. We’re hopeful that we can keep some of our games, obviously ECU has a game with South Carolina that’s very important to the program. You’d like to keep it, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That sentiment of uncertainty seems to be reigning supreme in the college athletic landscape right now as officials attempt to find the best path forward in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, the next week could provide clarity as to what direction Power 5 leagues take in terms of scheduling. As for the AAC, multiple scheduling options are being kicked around, but it will take some decisions from the likes of the SEC for the American to move closer to a decision.
“We don’t know what the A5 (conferences) will do, and if they all move their seasons back a few weeks, it would be hard to see us playing earlier,” Aresco said. “It’s possible, and it’s possible that some of them will start earlier and others will decide to delay. What if the Pac-12 or the Big 10 delay their season but the ACC and SEC don’t? Our goal is to play all 12 (games) if we can. The alternatives, realistically, would be play a 10-game conference schedule, play a round robin. Or you could play eight conference games and you could play two non-conference games.”
Aresco stressed the importance of playing Power 5 opponents this year. In the past, the AAC has seen success against the bigger conferences in games that help elevate the league’s standing. If those games are not played, many of which would result in pay-outs to AAC members including ECU’s $300,000 for playing South Carolina, Aresco said his conference may consider shifting to a league-only model instead of attempting to round up FCS opponents on short notice.
In that respect, Aresco said, the league is currently in a “holding pattern” as it awaits decisions from Power 5 conferences.
With many scenarios currently still on the table for the AAC and ECU, one thing that seems to be a non-starter, at least right now, is the idea of playing football in the spring. A handful of FCS conferences have already made that shift, but multiple officials, including some at ECU, have stressed spring football as a last resort.
“In some ways, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Aresco said. “It puts 2021 in jeopardy. To lose two football seasons would be catastrophic. It’s hard to think you could play 20 or 25 games in a compressed time period in one calendar year. We’ve got to look really hard at the fall and hope we can play in the fall. Granted, spring football could be a last resort.”
Aside from the sheer number of games teams would have to play in a calendar year, ECU Athletics Director Jon Gilbert identified a seemingly endless list of problems associated with shifting football to the spring in a power luncheon with the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.
“I am not an advocate for spring football,” Gilbert said. “There are a lot of complications with it. No. 1, I don’t know what the TV networks would indicate from a television rights fee. Do they have adiquent programming in their time? What would that look like? I also think if we shift to a complete spring model — this is all hypothetically speaking — if we shift to an all spring model for all sports, we have somewhere — ECU athletics — between 225 to 250 athletic events that primarily take place on nights and weekends.
“If you condense that into a spring schedule, as you would well anticipate, we would have multiple facility and scheduling issues. Not to mention that no athletic department in the country has the number of staff to cover all of those things. I think if you see that, you will see a condensed schedule broadbased like every sport if that indeed happens. I’m not a huge advocate for spring football, I think it complicates a lot of things for the following fall.”
The AAC is set to enter the first year of a 12-year TV rights fee with ESPN this football season. While parameters of that deal may have to be reworked in response to already canceled games and ones that could be canceled in the near future, moving football to the spring would mean a complete reworking of the initial year of that contract.
Aresco, who is a former executive with ESPN, said he would not even know where to begin discussing how that deal could look because he does not yet know what the landscape for college football will look like.
Nevertheless, the AAC and ECU are viewing spring football as the last option in a season that will not look like any other in the history of collegiate football. For now, the AAC will take its cues from Power 5 leagues, as well as professional sports leagues that are attempting a return to action.
“Let’s see what baseball, NBA, MLS, NHL, let’s see what they do,” Aresco said. “It’s not the same comparison because they’re testing more than we can test, but they could, if things go successful, that could buttress our position. If they don’t go well, that could harm our position.”
Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Mike Aresco that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Thursday below, beginning around the 45-minute mark: