Coaches and administrators from the American Athletic Conference gather Wednesday through Friday for the league's annual spring meetings in Key Biscayne, Florida. ESPN.com caught up with commissioner Mike Aresco late last week to preview what's on the agenda for the league, which is now preparing for its second season.
With other conferences' spring meetings in recent weeks helping decision-makers lay the foundation for looming NCAA change, Aresco insists that the American, too, will be focusing more on the big-picture items, despite the integration of new members East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.
With the power five conferences pushing for autonomy, here are Aresco's takes on some of the governance changes that have been talked about across the nation and how the American will fit in with such discussions and proposals.
On the changing landscape of college athletics: "We think we have the resources to do some of the things. Maybe not all of them, but perhaps all of them, of the things that they're doing. We're concerned, too. We have the same concerns about health and welfare of student-athletes and nutrition. We have the same issues about financial aid and possibly helping out long term in terms of scholarships going beyond the four-year period to help someone achieve degrees. Time demands is a concern, academic support, recruiting. Again, we think that ultimately the cost of attendance, we've embraced the concept -- we want our student-athletes to have the full cost of attendance. We want to make sure they have appropriate and reasonable access to the things they need, whether it's nutrition, whether it's -- again as I said -- their health and wellness needs. Again, we think we're pretty much in the same place, and the fact is we're obviously not in the room where they make these decisions, although they have promised us that we will have conversations about these things."
The concern, it seems, is what happens if the power five begin to push for further changes once the initial wave comes and passes: "The other thing that I would point out when it comes to the autonomy: We would be concerned about the threshold for any new autonomy items down the road. There's a list now, and it's a fairly fixed list, of items that would be subject to potential autonomy. If there are new items once the redesign process is finished, if there are going to be new items in a year or two years or three years, we would want to know what the threshold is and who's going to vote on that."
With most power five conferences mandating at least one game each year against a school from another power five conference, Aresco said he has not heard any immediate reaction from American athletic directors about scheduling difficulties. But he is open to more neutral-site games and thinks his league has much to offer in the strength-of-schedule department: "When they say, 'OK, you have to play one game from another equity conference' or power conference, whatever you want to call it, that doesn't preclude us from playing those teams. Now, the fact that we haven't been mentioned in that conversation, we feel we should be in that conversation, and we feel that those conferences should be talking about us. ... We've just got game after game against those conferences [scheduled], and we're confident that they'll want to play us and continue to play us because we'll offer strength of schedule and we'll offer good opponents within their footprints, which makes a lot of sense in terms of travel costs, in terms of rivalries."
Aresco reiterated that he sees the American's relationship with BYU as a "quasi-alliance." The Cougars do not have any physical presence at the league meetings: "Nothing formal, but we call it kind of a quasi-alliance. It's a strong relationship where a number of our schools are playing BYU over the next four or five years. We have three games with them this year, three more next year. Going forward we're trying to schedule more with them. I have a strong relationship with [BYU athletic director] Tom Holmoe."