As a fan who grew up watching Big East basketball, the news of UConn heading back to the conference was met with joy and excitement. The return of Connecticut basketball automatically helps stabilize the Big East and will bring back some of the greatest rivalries in college basketball.
Unfortunately, this paints a much different picture for the future of football at the university. All reports suggest that the AAC has no interest in keeping a football-only member — especially one who’s been underwhelming since joining the conference six years ago.
UConn does have options, but none seem to make a ton of sense. They could attempt to join Conference USA, the MAC or become an Independent. At this point, the most likely option is to go the Independent route. They could start potential rivalries with other Independent programs such as Army, Liberty and especially UMass.
The AAC has its own decisions to make with the departure of UConn from the conference. They are down to 11 schools and they have two options: bring in a replacement or forge ahead with 11 schools.
Below are a few schools that would be sensible options to replace the Huskies in the AAC.
1. Army Black Knights
Army is currently an Independent in football and a program on the rise under head coach Jeff Monken. The program has three consecutive winning seasons, three consecutive bowl wins, and a brand throughout college football.
The problem is Army seems perfectly happy having the freedom and flexibility in regards to scheduling. They would also need to consider if being in the same conference with Navy would affect their annual matchup in December.
2. BYU Cougars
BYU has a storied history and a quality program even through they’ve dipped in recent years. The Cougars left the Mountain West Conference and became an independent in 2011. Some may say leaving the Mountain West Conference is the main reason for their 4-9 record just two seasons ago.
My opinion is the departure of head coach Bronco Mendenhall has had more to do with the program’s lack of consistent success. As with all the programs on this list, there will be many obstacles in place for a deal to be made.
Reports indicate that BYU is close to renewing a new TV deal with ESPN, which would lessen their chances of joining the conference. Even more problematic than the TV deal is the geographic challenges between the university and the other AAC members. The closest schools to BYU’s campus would be either Tulsa or SMU and both are over a 1,000 miles away.
I still believe the university is holding out hope for a Power 5 offer which probably isn’t realistic at this point.
3. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos would be a slam dunk on the playing field for the AAC, but it doesn’t make sense for Boise State. The university is comfortable in the Mountain West Conference, and much like BYU, the travel would be a major issue. Boise is also hoping and praying for a Power 5 offer in the future from the Big 12 or Pac 12.
4. Conference USA Schools
There are only a few schools in C-USA that may make sense and could bring in new TV markets to the conference: Charlotte, Old Dominion or UAB. However, they all have major roadblocks to an invite.
In the four seasons since Charlotte began play in Conference USA, they have won a combined 12 games and just fired their coach last season. Old Dominion joined the conference in 2014 and won a bowl game in 2016, but they have fallen back to earth and finished with four wins last season in spite of their monster upset of Virginia Tech.
UAB ended their football program in 2014. Due to major fundraising and public out cry, the university decided to restart the program in 2017. After two seasons without a program head coach, Bill Clark led the Blazers to a bowl game in 2017 and the program won the Conference USA championship last season. Clark needs to be on the short list for any potential coaching opportunities moving forward.
I see potential in all three of these programs, but I’m just not sure the AAC can take a chance on an unproven product.
5. Sun Belt Conference Teams
This comes down to Appalachian State and Georgia State.
App State could certainly compete in the AAC and has a strong and consistent football history. They’ve won a share of three consecutive Sun Belt titles, but the dilemma is they’re a smaller school and the Boone, NC market will not generate enough interest for the AAC Athletic Directors to take notice.
Georgia State hasn’t proven much on the football field, but they are located in Atlanta and the university has over 50,000 students. They check a lot of boxes off the field and could be a player down the line if the football program develops.
6. AAC Staying at 11 Teams
The option that continues to gain momentum is the AAC conference staying pat with 11 teams. I don’t see a good enough reason to reach for a potential partner at this point.
After the 2019 season, they could scrap the East and West divisions that are currently in place and have the the top two teams in the standings face off for the conference championship.
It would certainly make sense for the current Athletic Directors to stay at 11 teams and keep more revenue between them until they can find the right fit.
Unless the conference can sell either Army or BYU on becoming the newest member, all signs point to the conference sticking with 11 teams until a better fit emerges.