A football game between UConn (blue) and Cincinnati (white)
Today marks the official start of the American Athletic Conference as a successor to the Big East in football and other sports.
Of the eight teams that played in the first Big East football season in 1991, only Temple will remain, and that’s a Temple program that was banished to the MAC for a spell and has played in one bowl game in the past 30 years. Most of the other teams are former mid-majors from Conference USA or former independents or I-AA schools.
I’m sorry, but this conference is doomed, and there are several reasons why.
One is that, after 2013, the American Athletic loses its automatic BCS bid.
Recent history has told us that the Mountain West champion, and even the MAC champion, often outperformed the Big East champ in the BCS standings. And remember, that’s the Big East with West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville, all of whom have either left or are poised to leave in the coming seasons.
The chances of the American Athletic, as constituted, landing a team in the Final Four of the college football playoff that begins in 2014 seem minuscule at best.
Another threat to the viability of this conference is that the power conferences probably aren't done raiding yet. The ACC will want to get up to 16, while the Big 12 will actually want to get to 12, so it can stage a nationally televised championship game like the other four power conferences.
While it's true that they could go after some western programs such as Boise State or BYU, the most likely targets seem to be teams from this conference.
Cincinnati would seem a good fit in either the ACC or the Big 12, to provide natural rivals to isolated Louisville or West Virginia. Either of the Texas schools would be natural fits in the Big 12, while Memphis, UConn or even Temple would fit well in the ACC.
Another reason is that, generally speaking, there is no one area of the country where the conference is stronger than in any of the power conferences.
The Big 12 is strongest in Texas, the SEC in the Southeast and the ACC in the South Atlantic. In the Northeast, the American Athletic has to deal both with the strong followings of Notre Dame, Boston College, Penn State and other Big Ten teams, as well as a general apathy toward college football.
To be frank, the American Athletic Conference is a collection of stepchildren and commuter schools, lacking any of the 20 or 30 renowned names in college sports.
The only really top-notch program the conference boasts in any sport are Geno Auriemma's Lady Huskies, which will see a significant drop in strength-of-schedule in this new conference. Since Geno Auriemma doesn't coach football, having him in the conference will not be much of a help in terms of revenue.
The final thing is that the programs have almost nothing in common.
Connecticut will be without its traditional rivals in basketball. With the departure of Louisville, Cincinnati will have no traditional rivals either, being almost 500 miles from any other school in the conference. UCF will be playing in its third conference in a decade and has failed to establish a report with anyone save USF.
Do you see the American Athletic Conference as being viable in the long run?
Navy will probably have to lose a traditional rivalry upon entrance into the conference. And none of those schools have an iota in common with former SWC schools Houston and SMU.
We've had leftover conferences: The Big West was continually being raided by the Western Athletic, who in turn was later raided by the Mountain West and Conference USA. Neither of these conferences currently sponsor football.
My hypothesis is that a few of the schools will get swallowed up by the big-contract power conferences, one or two may go independent, and the remainder will be divided among mid-major conferences such as Conference USA and the non-football-playing Atlantic Ten.
Bottom line: This season, we’ll see an overmatched Louisville, Cincy or Houston team with a BCS ranking of about 20 sneak into a BCS Bowl, but within five or 10 years, we’ll hardly remember the American Athletic Conference ever existed.