- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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The American Athletic Conference wrapped up its first spring meetings Wednesday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The three-day session also marked Mike Aresco's first spring meetings as the conference's commissioner. Aresco chatted with ESPN.com by phone Wednesday afternoon following the meetings. Here is that conversation.
How would you characterize the tone of the meetings?
Mike Aresco: I don't think there's any question: Upbeat and optimistic. Upbeat and optimistic. I think there was no question that that was the tone. I think everybody here noticed that, and the reporters here noticed that in all our meetings. There was a real sense of, 'We've gotten through a lot, but we're in terrific shape.' And we're really anxious to get going.
One of the issues entering the meetings that was resolved was how the pie of exit/entrance fees would be split. How was that determined, and how would you characterize everyone's satisfaction level with it?
MA: That was an ongoing process and it pretty much had been wrapped up before we got here. But we also approved our conference budgets and other miscellaneous things. But in terms of distribution, not only of the realignment and the units left behind but of revenues going forward — the former we reached a fair and equitable distribution. We've had committees and ADs make recommendations. Again, incumbents and newcomers, new schools and our presidents approved the overall plan and it was, as you know, there were people feeling that it might be divisive or rancorous but it wasn't at all. There was a real feeling of, 'Let's roll up our sleeves and get this done in a fair and equitable way.' And in terms of new revenues coming in, we're like the other major conferences in the sense that we're moving toward the equalization model in those revenues and new revenues, TV and others down the road. But we got all that resolved and again, all the financials, it went very smoothly. We had a good discussion and resolution.
What is the latest with the bowl situation? Are you looking for a national lineup here? There have been reports of some of your current bowls possibly affiliating themselves with other conferences.
MA: You know, Matt, nothing has been decided yet but we do expect changes. There are always changes every cycle in the bowl lineups — that's happened before. We expect, though, to have a very solid lineup of outstanding bowls, good venues where our teams and our fans want to go, and also we want to be playing the teams and the conferences that we want to play. We're pretty confident about that. We have more teams now. We have a bigger footprint. We want to obviously nationalize our bowl lineup, but we're talking to our incumbents. So again, we're feeling that we'll end up with a good bowl lineup.
I read reports about possibly creating a bowl in South Florida. Is that a strong possibility at this point?
MA: We've thought about that. South Florida is just one area. We also thought about some other areas where we can create one. Yeah it is, it's something that we're really looking into seriously. We understand the bowls business, we've been involved in it obviously as a conference. And we think that there's a model that can work for us. We think it'd be a good thing for our conference. That's the kind of innovative, bold thing that we need to do as a conference that wants to make its mark and let people know who we are.
I believe the logo has been revealed to the presidents and athletic directors. When can we expect something to be publicized?
MA: A lot of our membership, our presidents, ADs have seen the marks, logo and ancillary marks. It will be revealed sometime late next week. We have a date in mind but we're not certain yet so obviously late next week it will be revealed. I think, Matt, you're going to like them. I think that they're really strong marks. Our TV partners are going to like them and we think the public will embrace them. And certainly our membership has been unanimous in the marks in terms of having seen them. They really like them and feel they're strong and they reflect who we are.
The press release following the meetings said that the conference further developed a "branding, marketing and public relations strategy." What are some of the ideas you guys have in mind?
MA: We want to work with our schools more closely to make sure we coordinate our brand messaging. We also want to refine our message in terms of who we are. We're great academic institutions that want to provide our student-athletes with the best opportunities athletically, and we've got a geographical coherence now. We also have great history. What we want to stress is that we have real history with our schools, whether it's Clyde Drexler or Houston, whether it's great players that played football at Cincinnati or whether it's Jason Pierre-Paul at South Florida. You go up and down the list, there are great players who have played in our conference and also great people, very good universities. We want to emphasize that, but we're also talking about, 'Here we are, we have a fresh start.' We're excited about that. We can do things that perhaps other conferences haven't been able to do. Because again, we are getting a fresh start, so we'll continue to talk about that, and then in terms of marketing we're just going to have to figure out as we go forward how we want to get the word out, what the best platforms are to do it. Work with our TV partners as well, the logo, revealing the logo, and the marks are certainly part of that campaign. And we developed again, a strategy around how we're going to do that, so all that came up and was discussed.
The release also said that plans were discussed for a digital network. Were those preliminary conversations or is there a plan in place moving forward for something like this?
MA: I would say in-between. They're not preliminary and I wouldn't say we formulated a plan because we're going to be talking to our TV partners about how we want to entail plans for that. But we definitely want to do a digital network. That's a goal of ours. I think we had serious discussions about it. We've got a consultant who's one of the best in the business and who is helping us, and we expect to move forward on that.
What are some of the new safety protocols your coaches discussed?
MA: We had a good discussion about it. We're obviously going to look at it and digest it. Safety first. The feeling in the room is safety first, but also fairness to the kids and fairness to the players. You can have the ability during the game to do something regarding targeting. I think the feeling was that we want to study and we want to get everyone's feeling. It was a good exchange about it. I don't want to get into any individual venues at this point but again, the feeling was whatever we could do ultimately to ensure safety, that's obviously first. But also, again, fairness to make sure that we make the right calls and we don't have situations where maybe it rises to the level of targeting and an ejection. So I think the feeling is we just have to keep looking at that and have more discussion about it.