The American Athletic Conference will actually want to negotiate a higher exit fee to oblige prior departures of UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to the Big 12, commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN on Friday.
AAC bylaws expect schools to allow a 27-month notice before they leave and pay a $10 million buyout fee. On the off chance that those three schools complied with the bylaws, Aresco said, their leave date would be July 1, 2024. While the discussions haven’t occurred at this point, Aresco said he anticipates that they should enter dealings to change the exit fee.
“We typically do, because it’s not a great situation when you know somebody’s leaving,” he said. “Often you can you can mitigate some of that by just again getting a larger exit fee and having them leave earlier so we’ll certainly be willing to negotiate that as we’ve done in the past and as other conferences have done in the past, but I can’t tell you precisely yet at this point, nobody’s indicated what year.”
UCF athletic director Terry Mohajir said his school is “open to any options.”
“We’re going to look at where we are with our contract with the American,” Mohajir said, “and all options are open right now.”
In the interim, Aresco said his conference intends to move “deliberately and expeditiously” to add two to four teams and beef up the league to 10 or 12 after the three flights. Aresco declined to name specific schools the AAC is interested in, however said it would as it were “entertain institutions that have shown an interest in us.”
“We’re not trying to poach, we’re not trying to persuade,” he said. “There have been schools that have shown interest in us. I’m trying not to create any instability in the system. … We’re just trying right now to regroup. We know we need to get bigger. That’s just a fact of life based on what’s happened, but I’m trying not to rile things up.”
Aresco said the AAC would almost certainly search for individuals in all sports, football, but at the same time that is plausible.
“Ultimately we want to be stronger than we were,” he said. “We think there are schools interested in us who would help us do that.
“We just would like to find schools that think alike, have that DNA of achievement, have a cultural fit, academic as well as social, cultural fit,” he added. “Geography does matter to some degree, but it matters less and less because the travel is a lot better than it once was.”
Aresco has for some time been a promoter of hoisting the AAC to a similar autonomous status the Power 5 conferences appreciate, and he has pushed for his conference to make it the “Power 6.” He repeated on Friday that he will proceed with that work with the new participation while likewise attempting to change a system that makes it hard for conferences to move in – and out – of that autonomous status.
“I think we’ll have a stronger case because the Big 12 has almost half of its membership came from non-power ranks, if you include TCU and BYU,” he said. “The prevailing feeling is that we were a P6 and the system couldn’t accommodate that or wouldn’t accommodate that.”
“The decision has to come again from the legislative process within the NCAA,” added Houston president Renu Khator, who holds a seat on the NCAA’s Board of Governors, the NCAA’s highest governing body.
Aresco said he trusts UCF, Cincinnati and Houston prevail in the Big 12, and that few individuals from those schools connected – including an “absolutely lovely” message from Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell.
“You just cannot take this personally,” Aresco said. “It’s not fun to go through, and no one’s going to argue that you don’t put on a happy face, but on the other hand, you have to. There’s a human aspect to it. And these are all people who really did a nice job in the conference and were loyal members and obviously they feel it’s in their interest to do what they’re doing, and you have to respect that and move on.”