The past few years have been some of the craziest times the NCAA has seen in decades. Realignment has swept over the college landscape, with today marking the beginning of a new journey for many programs and conferences. The American Athletic Conference, once known as the Big East, experienced more chaos and turnover than any other league in the NCAA.
It all started in the fall of 2011, when the Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange announced they would be leaving for bigger opportunities in the ACC. The West Virginia Mountaineers quickly followed suit, as the program just wrapped up its first season in the Big XII. The conference took more blows when the Louisville Cardinals (ACC) and Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Big Ten) announced they would also be leaving the conference at the end of the 2013-14 academic calendar year, as well as the seven Catholic schools, which take the Big East name with them this year.
All of this left the conference on life support, but credit to commissioner Mike Arseco, who managed to keep the league from dissolving and added a slew of new programs for the 2013-14 season that includes the Central Florida Knights, Houston Cougars, Memphis Tigers, SMU Mustangs and Temple Owls. Also scheduled to join the conference in the future are the East Carolina Pirates (2014), Navy Midshipmen (2015 football only), Tulane Green Wave (2014) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2014).
After the upcoming academic year, the only remaining schools from the former Big East will be the Cincinnati Bearcats, Connecticut Huskies and South Florida Bulls. Regardless, the AAC’s first season of athletics should be a fun one to watch, especially basketball, where Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and Memphis will all have teams that should make for an interesting battle for the league’s inaugural title.
There is no denying the brand has changed and will continue to do so over the next few years, but by cementing new TV deals with ESPN, the AAC has done everything possible to keep the league nationally relevant. It will be interesting to see whether teams like Cincinnati and Connecticut stay or venture to new waters over the next few years. The present began for the AAC today, but the future remains a mystery. In the meantime, fans will have to enjoy what they’ve got before it’s gone.