Chatting With AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco
By Bill Gelman
When the 2013 college football season opens next month, the words Big East Conference will no longer be part of the conversation. The new league, the American Athletic Conference — The American for short — officially launched July 1. Just like opening a new restaurant or resort, there is going to be an adjustment period of getting used to the new name and the teams that make up this newly formed league.
Commissioner Mike Aresco is the man overseeing everything from how the new name came about to future plans for a conference championship game. He took a timeout from his busy schedule to talk about this and more with Football.com.
How did the American Athletic Conference name come about?
Aresco: We’re very happy with our name and the process that produced it. We heard from a lot of different groups — from presidents and athletic directors to fans and focus groups. With all of the different models we had, ‘American’ really resonated with everyone. Once we had that as a starting point, we came up with different variations using that word, and again, the feedback to ‘American Athletic Conference’ was extremely positive. It’s a strong, durable name that really defines who we are.
Tell us a little bit about the transition process of changing from the household name of the Big East Conference to the new name?
Aresco: There was still some value with the Big East name and the history and tradition that are attached to it. But in the end, the Big East name resonated more as a basketball brand, while we needed to build our football identity as well as our basketball. We also felt that we might be better off with a fresh start and a chance to build with our own name and brand. Being compared to the old Big East, which no longer exists, would be detrimental as we look ahead.
Why the July 1 changeover date?
Aresco: The conference bylaws stipulate July 1 as the effective date for any membership changes. It coincides with the change in fiscal year at most of our schools and it doesn’t cause any overlap with our playing seasons.
What are some of the main tasks that each school is dealing with as football season approaches?
Aresco: The best thing our schools can do to enhance our brand is to win. We have some great nonconference games this year — UCF hosts South Carolina; UConn hosts Michigan; SMU goes to Texas A&M and TCU; USF has Michigan State and Miami; Temple opens at Notre Dame; Houston hosts BYU. So there are real opportunities for our teams to position themselves nationally.
What are some of the ways/methods you plan on marketing the new name?
Aresco: The first thing we’ve done in that regard is to come up with a logo and graphics package that is terrific. It has been really well-received by our schools, our fans and our television partners. The response has been phenomenal. You will see our mark on our fields and on our uniforms. Beyond that, we plan to be an innovator and leader in the traditional media and in digital and social media as well. The response we’ve gotten nationally to our July 1 launch has been outstanding. We need to keep that momentum going, and we will.
How long do you think it will take to make The American a recognizable name?
Aresco: You can’t build a brand overnight. But what you can do is come up with a solid plan that you believe in, get key people on board, and stay the course with it. We’ve done the first part. We have a name and an identity that are attractive and easy to like. We have teams that are capable of delivering big results. We need to make sure that when we have a story to tell, that we’re telling it, our schools are telling it, and our coaches and student-athletes — the people who are the real influence-drivers — are telling it.
The Big East version of the conference has taken criticism recently for its place within the major conferences in terms of football ability. Do you feel it's realistic for this new conference to produce results similar to the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12?
Aresco: We understand very well that PR is not going to replace performance. But I’m confident that our schools have the infrastructure to deliver good results on the field. We go into this year with three teams that won at least 10 games last year — the only other league with more is the SEC. And the quality of coaches in this league — coaches who have great success over the years, like Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati, June Jones at SMU, George O’Leary at UCF, to name a few — is second to none.
Tell us a little bit about the TV deals with CBS and ESPN?
Aresco: We’re proud to have the backing of the two industry leaders in sports television as we relaunch our conference. The ESPN deal will give our football teams the kind of exposure that they have never had, with just about every game on an ESPN or ABC national platform. We will have great exposure in basketball as well, with our partnerships with ESPN and CBS.
With teams coming and going over the next three seasons, what are some of the things you are doing to make sure everything goes smoothly?
Aresco: The main thing is to operate with integrity and civility — to take the high road at all times and not get into contentious situations that can be amicably avoided. We’ve had some changes in the past year, but I’m proud of the way that we were able to work through our issues and to come to reasonable solutions for all sides. It will be the same way with the schools that are departing in the future. We are also sensitive to the schools coming in and to their obligations to their current conferences.
Are there plans for a conference championship game?
Aresco: Yes. We are planning to stage the first American Athletic Conference Football Championship Game in 2015. We’ll have the game on-campus at the site of our highest-seeded team, using whatever mechanism we use for that seeding process. ESPN/ABC will carry the game on one of its primary platforms, most likely ABC if a window is available.
Aresco seems like a practical guy, but the AAC still isn't any good in football, no matter how many 10-win teams they claim from 2012. Cincinnati must dominate this season for the conference to be relevant.