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Fletcher Page, fpage@enquirer..com
Initial conversations this week among league officials and representatives from member schools indicate the American Athletic Conference is unlikely to replace UConn, a source with close ties to the league told The Enquirer.
While the Huskies leaving for the Big East Conference diminishes the AAC’s basketball brand, the conference will likely remain at 11 football-member schools because, despite speculation among national media outlets about potential additions on the gridiron, there doesn’t appear to be a school that would agree to join and add value to the league.
Air Force, Army, BYU, Georgia State, UAB and others have been mentioned as potential targets. But while a number of programs could realistically perform at a higher level than UConn on the football field, it’s hard to find a match that could provide enough prestige, ticket sales, marketing and, most importantly, ESPN viewers and subscribers to make sense.
Boise State, another school floated in the mix, shouldn’t be seriously considered as a target either because, according to the source, there would likely be no benefits for the Broncos to leave the Mountain West Conference for any conference not among the Power Five.
And that’s OK, according to the source who said the AAC doesn’t need 12 teams in football due to overall numbers not carrying as much importance as it did when the league added East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa in 2014 (Wichita State joined as a non-football member in 2017) in response to losing former member schools Louisville and Rutgers.
Though Tulane had a winning record last season, the newest members haven’t helped the league much in football, but in that regard, UConn leaving does the conference a favor. The Huskies went 18-55 since joining the AAC in 2013, including 3-9 in 2017 and 1-11 last season and, according to the source, frustrated representatives from member schools due to a perceived lack of commitment to success on the football field.
With 11 teams, the AAC could ditch divisions and instead pit the two teams with the highest national ranking at regular season’s end in the conference championship game. That, the source said, would help raise the league’s profile and better position for a college football playoff spot and/or prestigious bowl bids.