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Mike Aresco had had enough. The Commissioner of the American Athletic Conference published a lengthy statement March 9 explaining why the label “Power 5” no longer works. He’s got a point.
For almost 10 years, the AAC has struggled with trying to fit in. For a while, they tried to get the media and many in college football to adopt the “Power 6” moniker, going so far as to create a P6 logo that adorned down markers on football sidelines. The conference had success in both football and basketball, but when the College Football Playoff was launched, they were on the outside looking in. Even when Cincinnati finally reached the 2021 CFP semifinals, ESPN and others called them a “non P5” team. It stung.
Aresco called a spade a spade. In his statement:
It is troubling to see media-manufactured labels, confirmed by college sports leadership, which do not reflect the reality of college sports going forward. This creates a divide at five that should not exist and creates harmful effects. Documents have recently come to light that describe a P5 legislative initiative around NIL that has not been shared with the wider membership. This is not a healthy approach, as such an initiative should be a collaborative effort among the wider Division I membership, including all FBS conferences. These five conferences do not speak for all of college athletics. The Power Five and Group of Five labels should be discarded and confined to collegiate history. There are 10 FBS conferences, some more successful than others, but all sharing similar goals, experiencing similar challenges and competing successfully against each other.
With the finishing touches being placed on a 12 team playoff, the financial future looks better for the newly expanded 2023 version of the AAC. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA are coming on board, and will offset the losses of Houston, Cincinnati and University of Central Florida moving to the Big 12. It will come with a hefty penalty-its been reported by The Athletic that each university will have to reimburse the AAC $18 million over the next 14 years because they are departing a year early.
Aresco spoke in more detail at the AAC men’s basketball tournament on Saturday. “The gap between the number 2 conference, whether it’s the Big Ten or the SEC, and the number 3 is far wider now than between the number 3 conference and the American.” Taking a look at the some of the conference wide revenues, he’s not that far off.
Selected Conference Revenue Comparison (2021)
The gap between the SEC, the Big Ten and everyone else is widening; however, there are some unique differences in the conference revenue streams with the four remaining conferences. When you look at post-season revenues, the gap between the Big Ten and the ACC is $289.59 million; the gap between the ACC and the AAC is $242.77 million.
Therein lies the problem. The AAC has had post season success in football. But some of it has to do with bowl game payouts. “If the difference is so vast, why does The American have four New Year’s Day football wins over top-10 teams and dozens of regular season football wins against the labeled P5,” according to Aresco’s statement.
The issue is clearly getting into the CFP semifinals. On that, the AAC can thank Cincinnati for having a blockbuster year in 2021. Those who follow football closely know that television viewership drives some of the decision making as to who is selected in the “final four” and who is left behind. It didn’t hurt that Cincinnati faced Alabama in that match-up.
Aresco believes that the 12 team CFP levels the playing field for his conference for the first time in the “Autonomy 5” era, even if it’s just in how the media and others describe it. Noting his irritation that the conference was left out of an NIL conversation conducted with other commissioners, he argued that Federal NIL lobbying and legislation affects all of Division I, not just a select few.
The reality is that football revenues just mean more. As Florida State athletics director Michael Alford told his trustees recently, it’s worth about 80% of the equation in determining a conference’s media revenues. While the AAC will likely make up some ground if they have more than one team win and advance in the bracket, so will the others.
It is time to drop the “Power 5” label-it’s no longer accurate. When it comes to revenues, it certainly is “The Big Two”. The question becomes- what do you call everyone else?