Mike Aresco promises AAC will run with the power five

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco speaks Saturday during a news conference before the UConn-Memphis gamein Hartford.
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco speaks Saturday during a news conference before the UConn-Memphis gamein Hartford.Jessica Hill — The Associated Press

HARTFORD >> Mike Aresco has the air of a proud man these days, and rightfully so. The commissioner of the American Athletic Conference is delighted — though not shocked — the league has five of its 10 members in the AP Top 25 in its inaugural season.

“It’s not something that necessarily surprised us,” he said on Saturday, an hour before two of the league’s elite teams, UConn and Memphis, went at it at the XL Center. “We knew we had good teams. We thought Temple might be in a transition year; they’ve gone to six straight tournaments. But SMU picked up the slack and ended up being ahead of schedule. It’s been a good year, and obviously that’s on the heels of the Fiesta Bowl and UCF, and what the football teams have done in our conference.”

Of course, there are still questions and issues surrounding the league. The main one being: if the AAC isn’t one of the power-five conferences (SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12), how is it going to maintain its success in the future. Newly christened Cincinnati AD Mike Bohn even mentioned that in his introductory press conference last week, essentially admitting his No. 1 goal is to get Cincy into a power-five conference.

But Aresco, the Middletown product and Xavier High graduate, allayed some of those fears on Saturday. Most notably, he said that if the schools in the power-five conferences are allowed to offer student-athletes stipends — an advantage that would clearly steer top recruits to those schools — the AAC is prepared to follow suit.

“Although we don’t have the resources they have, we don’t have the TV deal money they have — we have exposure just as good as any of them — (and) they can do certain things, but it’s permissive, meaning we can do it, too,” he noted. “As a conference, we’ve already committed to provide a full cost of attendance stipend, if that’s passed. It’s unclear yet what that’s going to be — whether it’s going to be based on federal guidelines, whether it’s cost of attendance for each individual school, and that can include incidentals, laundry, travel and other kinds of things that kids have not necessarily had covered by their full scholarships.

“But whether it’s a fixed amount, we’ve committed as a conference that we’re going to do it. And we’re probably going to do other things that they plan to do (paying for families to come to certain events, etc.) … we have every intention of being a conference just like those other five, which we’ve always been as a BCS conference.”

There are myriad issues involving any such changes — Title IX, etc. — but Aresco made it clear he intends for the American to continue to be a strong conference.

“We’re establishing that we’ll be able to do what the other five are going to do, if we want to,” he said. “How we vote and how we determine that, we don’t know yet.”