July 1, 2013
By Bill Nichols
Although the upstart American Athletic Conference offers considerably less swag than the original Big East, SMU still stands to reap benefits in exposure and revenue.
The American will be a 10-team league in 2013 with Big East holdovers Louisville, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati and Temple joining former Conference USA members SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis.
In 2014, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa jump on board as Louisville bolts to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten. The U.S. Naval Academy will become a football-only member in 2015, increasing the league to 12 teams and setting the stage for a playoff game.
ESPN will control all football telecasts with 90 percent on one of ESPN’s national networks or ABC. The same networks will also broadcast 113 men’s basketball games and at least 50 women’s basketball games.
“I think the TV package with ESPN is going to be huge,”SMU football coach June Jones said. “That type of exposure you can’t put a price tag on. The other benefit is recruiting. You can tell a 17-, 18-year-old kid he’s going to be on TV every week. That’s big.”
SMU’s stance didn’t change with the Big East’s unraveling. President R. Gerald Turner took a leadership role with the league presidents and athletic directors.
The school chose to maintain the status quo as Boise State pulled out and San Diego State decided not to join the Big East. Those moves were followed by the Catholic 7 schools leaving and taking the Big East name with them.
The former Big East decided to surrender the Big East name, collect the departure fees and forge ahead with a new identity.
“We really felt up against it there,” commissioner Mike Aresco said. “We had mixed feelings about giving up the name. The Big East had a long tradition, but we felt that the financial settlement was extremely favorable. In the end, we needed a fresh identity.” . . .
The new American Athletic Conference will continue to evolve for a couple of years with several members moving out and others joining.
SMU’s decision to join the Big East Conference was heralded as a big step toward national prominence. The move promised major upgrades in prestige, exposure and revenue.
But 18 months later, after dramatic realignment, the Big East has broken up and SMU is commemorating a much different status — member of the American Athletic Conference. The new league becomes official Monday.
“This is a tangible sign of the athletic program’s evolution,” athletic director Rick Hart said. “The new conference will provide unprecedented national exposure. There are a lot of schools that would love to be in this position.”
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