NEWPORT, R.I. — The American Athletic Conference is not one of the nation’s power conferences.
Its commissioner wants to change that.
Mike Aresco said Tuesday his league will not accept the status quo in which the Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 are perceived to be on a different level from the AAC.
Speaking during his conference’s annual football media days, Aresco called his conference a “challenger brand.”
“If we look and act like the so-called Power Five, we will be in the conversation and eventually ‘Power Six’ will enter the media and public lexicon and perceptions,” he said.
Aresco acknowledged the AAC, which is entering its third season since rising out of the breakup of the old Big East, cannot make the NCAA give it the level of autonomy in rulemaking it has bestowed on the Power Five.
He said the American can instead force open that door with its play on the field and by providing student-athletes with an equal level of support off of it.
He noted the AAC already has joined the Power Five in instituting reforms such as full cost-of-attendance scholarships and strict concussion protocols.
But not everyone believes the league can keep pace.
“We can do that for a couple of years,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “We obviously can’t sustain. When you are not getting a $35 million check, it’s hard to have that cost of attendance and keep up with everything.”
On the field, the American went just 4-22 against Power Five schools in 2014. The league’s out-of-conference schedule this season includes 19 games against Power Five schools. Navy and Temple also will play Notre Dame.
“As those Power Five schools go to nine conference games and are mandated to play one from the other four Power Five conferences, it limits their ability to play our teams,” Aresco said.
“On the other hand, some conferences have said they won’t play FCS schools, which means they will potentially play us. I believe if we play them, we can compete with them.”
The AAC has added Navy for football this season. With a 12-team league it will have its first conference championship game on Dec. 5 at the home site of the division champion with the best conference record.
Cincinnati was picked as the favorite in the annual media poll. The Bearcats return 15 seniors from a team that went 9-4 last season and won a share of the conference title with a 7-1 mark in the league. They received 22 of 30 first-place votes.
Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, whose team is used to living in the shadow of Ohio State, said one of his goals is to show the nation that his team and his conference deserve both a little more respect and a little more attention.
“We feel like the underdogs to the Power Five,” he said. “There are some real good teams in this conference and we don’t get the recognition that we should.”
The Bearcats have been placed in the East Division of the conference, and are picked to finish ahead of UCF, Temple, East Carolina, South Florida and UConn.
Memphis, which went 10-3 last season, is the choice to win the West Division ahead of Houston, Navy, Tulane, SMU and Tulsa.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said other conferences may have stronger teams at very top of their leagues, but he believes the Midshipman are joining one of the strongest conferences in the nation from top to bottom. Of course, he said, there is only one way to prove that.
“We have to beat them on the field,” he said. “That’s the only way we build any credence.”