American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco ruled out adding multiple non-football schools in an interview.
As for perhaps adding one — Wichita State fans, pay attention — his comments seem, perhaps, open to interpretation. Open enough, perhaps, to keep Wichita State fans interested in the possibility of dumping the Missouri Valley Conference for the American.
It’s all vague, shadowy and uncertain, as these conference expansion matters often are. Until Aresco spoke — and he didn’t speak the words “Wichita State” — previous reporting relied on unnamed sources to detail the situation.
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Aresco discussed those topics on a Sirius XM satellite radio show with Jason Horowitz and Eddie House on Tuesday.
The hosts asked him to address reports that Wichita State, Dayton and VCU are possible additions to the American’s 11-school basketball roster.
“I don’t know where that stuff started,” Aresco said. “We would always look to improve our basketball, but we are not under any circumstances going back to the old Big East model of multiple basketball schools. Just not happening.”
“Multiple,” perhaps, is the key word. For Wichita State fans desperate to escape the Missouri Valley Conference, it’s, perhaps, a source of hope.
Aresco later refers to the friction that developed between the Big East basketball and football schools when he worked as commissioner.
The American sprang out of the split between the Big East’s private schools, all focused on basketball, and the football schools.
Seven Catholic schools wearied of football decisions affecting their basketball interests. They primarily objected to adding schools such as Tulane, SMU and East Carolina to fill football spots as the Atlantic Coast Conference poached Big East members such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville.
The private schools departed with the Big East name and took in Creighton, Butler and Xavier. Football-playing schools such as Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut formed the American, which has 12 football schools with Navy a football-only member.
Later in the interview, Aresco seems open, perhaps, to the possibility of improving the conference’s basketball strength by adding a 12th member that does not play football.
The American ranks seventh in the basketball RPI as a conference with No. 12 SMU and No. 15 Cincinnati regarded as certain NCAA Tournament teams. After Houston, no other American team is in the picture.
“We have 11 basketball members,” Aresco said. “I’m not certain what we’ll do in the future. We’re always evaluating our basketball to see if we can make it stronger. Right now, there is nothing going on.”
Later in the interview, Aresco said that the American is not looking to expand with a football school.
“We’re happy at 12,” he said. “On the basketball side … we always explore whether we can strengthen ourselves. Until something is actually happening or would happen, I’m not going to comment.”
Wichita State administrators routinely decline to comment on the issue, citing the sensitivity of the matter. While WSU has announced its interest in looking at other conferences, no WSU official has confirmed its interest in specifically joining the American for basketball and other sports.
Yet the possibility of leaving of MVC is taken seriously by multiple sources in the department, some of whom believe it to be a likely outcome. Others are much less certain. All say leaving the MVC for the American is the desired goal of the university, for academic, enrollment and athletic reasons. Some athletic department personnel have gone as far as to calculate travel expenses in a conference that stretches to Connecticut and Florida.
“It has gone from an idea to a discussion at the upper levels, but far from a serious plan, but it continues to be a prime topic of discussion at conference meetings,” Mark Blaudschun wrote on the subscription website tmgcollegesports.com. “According to several sources throughout the league, the American Athletic Conference is looking for a way to upgrade its rankings in basketball with an expansion blueprint focused primarily on Wichita State, but also including other higher profile basketball schools such as Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth.”
The AAC is often mentioned as a desired landing spot for WSU because of its uneven number of schools that play basketball (and other sports). AAC members are Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, Tulane, SMU, Temple, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Central Florida and Navy, which is a football-only member.
A year ago, Wichita State announced that consultants would evaluate the athletic department’s options for leaving the MVC and adding sports, most prominently football.