American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco expressed confidence that he will receive a waiver from the NCAA to continue holding a conference championship game in football for next year despite having fewer than 12 teams. He also plans on abandoning the conference’s two-division format.
After this school year, Connecticut will leave the AAC for the Big East in all sports but football, which the Big East doesn’t sponsor. The Huskies will be an independent in football. That will leave the AAC with 11 football teams.
The AAC currently has two divisions of six teams -- the East, which includes Temple, and the West. The winners of each division compete for the league championship.
Currently, all the teams in each division play each other, and they schedule three games against the other division.
The plan for next year, according to Aresco, is to go with 11 teams. To play a conference championship football game, a league needs to play a round-robin format or a round-robin format in the division.
Aresco says the AAC wants to continue having its teams play four non-conference games. That only leaves eight conference games. In an 11-team league, that wouldn’t allow for a round-robin schedule.
The AAC has applied for a wavier from the NCAA for the matter, and Aresco said before Temple’s 30-28 win over Memphis on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field that the conference should hear in about a month from the NCAA.
“Obviously, we are optimistic but don’t want to take anything for granted,” Aresco said. “We will know within the next month whether we have the wavier, and that would be for two years if we get it, taking us through 2020 and 2021.”
He said the new model for the AAC would be similar to the Big 12’s except the schools wouldn’t be playing a round-robin schedule.
The Big 12 has 10 teams, and they all play each other for nine conference games, along with three non-conference games.
What happens if the NCAA denies the waiver?
“At that point, if you want to continue the championship game you have to add a team and go back to 12,” Aresco said. “What we said to the NCAA is that we would rather be in a position where we don’t have to raid a conference.”
The other opportunity would be to look at independents.
Here are the independents, other than Notre Dame, which has a partial deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference: Liberty, Army, Brigham Young, Massachusetts and New Mexico State.
Technically, the AAC could go to two divisions of six and five teams, but Aresco said the conference doesn’t want to do that, saying there are too many complications, and he didn’t feel there would be room for four non-conference games.
That number is important to the AAC, which wants it teams playing two of those non-conference games against Power Five schools, although it hasn’t always shaped up that way. This year, Temple was able to play two Power Five schools, beating Maryland and Georgia Tech.
Aresco also said he would have no problem with AAC teams still scheduling UConn in football.