The AAC is making plans to get rid of divisions as it drops down to 11 football teams in 2020.
Commissioner Mike Aresco said Tuesday on 92.9 FM in Memphis that the conference “already pretty much” made the decision to go ahead with 11 teams in a one-division format in 2020 and beyond and that the conference had already applied for a waiver from the NCAA.
“I think, if anything, if we play with 11 teams, which we plan to, and we get a waiver and we play a championship game with the top two teams, that championship game might be better and more valuable than what we’ve had because as you know with division play, you never know what the division teams’ records are going to be,” Aresco said on the station.
UConn is leaving the AAC in all sports after the 2019-20 season. It’s joining the Big East in everything but football, while the football team will likely be independent if it’s going to stay at the top level of college football long-term.
Goodbye East and West
With UConn in the conference, the AAC is at a nice and round 12 teams. That means the conference has six teams in each of its East and West divisions.
The odd number post-UConn would put all 11 teams in the same division-less conference like the Big 12, a conference that doesn’t have divisions but has a title game. But there’s a big difference between the current Big 12 and the future AAC.
Since the Big 12 has 10 teams, each team in the conference can play nine conference games and play every other team in the conference. The conference title game is a rematch. With 11 teams in the future AAC, teams won’t be able to play every other team in the conference because 10 conference games is too much, something Aresco conceded on the radio show.
Eight or nine conference games?
AAC teams currently play eight conference games. If the conference wanted to keep that number, each AAC team would miss out on two other opponents during the regular season every year. If it increased the number to nine conference games like the Big Ten and Pac-12, then AAC teams would only not play one other team in the conference each season.
Is a near-round-robin format necessarily better than the current division setup? That may be in the eye of the beholder. Teams that draw both UCF and Memphis in the same season would have a harder schedule than teams that only draw one (or neither) of the two. With no divisions, that can be a significant factor.
But either way, it’s very clear that the conference wants to keep that title game. And you can’t blame it. Conference title games are a revenue-generator. And the lack of a title game would significantly impact the TV contract the AAC has with ESPN.
“We want to play with 11 teams, play the top two teams,” Aresco said. “We’ve already decided we’re going to do that. And we’re figuring out our schedules now. We talked to the Big Ten about how they did it all those years with Penn State, 11 [teams]. And we have to figure out the permanent opponents if any, the no plays if any, how we do byes in November. There’s a bunch of things to figure out. And we will figure it out.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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