After years of decline in fan support (and team support), it appears that the ConFLiCT is finally dead. Uconn is reportedly leaving the AAC and heading to the Big East for basketball. It’s unclear where their football team will land, but it will certainly not remain in the American if the school isn’t bringing other, less terrible, sports teams to the table.
So, with 11 football teams remaining, the conference will be expected to add another school to the mix. Let’s take a look at who some of the frontrunners could be.
UCF has been the only “Knights” in the AAC since Rutgers left in 2014. Maybe it’s time for that to change. There really are a number of benefits for both the school and the conference to make this happen.
For the conference, they get to turn Army-Navy, one of the premiere rivalries in the sport, into a conference game plastered with AAC logos and conference championship implications. The respect for the league could grow overnight with such a prestigious rivalry added to the mix.
For Army, the motivation is clear: the potential for major bowl appearances. The Black Knights have been experiencing some of their best seasons in history over the last few years, going 29-10 since 2016 and culminating with an 11-2 season this past year.
They can win as many games as they want. They can even go undefeated. But as long as they remain independent, they have no access to the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six slot. An 11-2 AAC team is a contender for the Cotton Bowl in 2019. An 11-2 independent might not even be in contention for a rank in the AP Poll.
The Cougars have played as an independent since 2010, but no one would be surprised if they joined a conference soon. The school even actively pursued a spot in the Big 12 back in 2016.
It’s no secret why this arrangement makes sense. The AAC gets to add a typically relevant and nationally respected program. BYU gets access to better bowls, better opponents and a slice of the conference’s lucrative TV deal.
The Cougars haven’t been as dominant as usual in recent years, winning just seven games this season and posting a losing record the year before. But the potential is still there. BYU took down both Arizona and Wisconsin this season and is only a couple years removed from its last strong campaign. The team could be a strong addition to the conference across the board.
FAU and/or FIU
We’re at the point where it’s not wishful thinking to say that UCF will leave the AAC behind one day. It won’t be in the next few years, maybe not even in the next 10 years, but the Knights are destined for the Power Five. So this could be the conference’s opportunity to lock down the Florida market for if/when UCF, USF or both leave.
That’s the long-term play. In the short term, this still makes plenty of sense for all parties. The days of FAU and FIU being Conference USA bottom dwellers are long over. The Owls are just a year removed from an 11-win season despite falling short of a bowl berth this year. And the Panthers have gone 17-9 with a bowl win since Butch Davis took over as coach in 2017.
Either one would provide a natural rivalry for UCF and USF, and add another potential bowl-eligible team to the conference’s slate. And given their respective locations in South Florida, moving to a superior conference could revitalize their recruiting and make for some strong teams within a few years.
And of course, the schools would both be eager to join given the major revenue bump. Each Conference USA school receives about $400,000 from its conference each year. Under it’s new TV deal, the AAC is set to give out about $7 million a year to its schools. That revenue increase could transform both Florida schools into significantly stronger programs in a matter of years.
This is definitely the long ball play for the conference, but it could pay huge dividends.