The American's future has a face
NEWPORT, R.I. -- Tommy Tuberville looked out from his podium and waited for the handful of reporters.
"Any questions?" the moderator asked after Tuberville's opening statement at the American Athletic Conference's inaugural media day. No one motioned for the microphone to ask one.
The awkward silence dragged on for a few more seconds before someone finally asked the first-year Cincinnati coach a question. He would get just one more before his time at the podium was up.
"Looking out here today, we have a generous amount of media, but nothing that was at the other leagues," Tuberville said. "And for what reason, I don't know."
Tuberville is in unfamiliar territory with The American. The "challenger brand," as commissioner Mike Aresco called it, is a stark contrast to Tuberville's past stops in the SEC and Big 12, where hundreds of reporters swarmed him at media days.
At their respective media days, conference commissioners have brought up the possibility of the "Power 5" -- the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- breaking from the NCAA or starting a new division within it. Making its case to be considered in the group of power conferences, The American is leaning on Tuberville's reputation to bolster the league's profile. But while Tuberville wants to do his part to strengthen The American, he's relying on Cincinnati's recent prestige, not the conference, as a selling point to prospective players.
"At first we didn't know what league we were going to be in and what the name of it was going to be," Tuberville said. "We've only had it for a couple of months. Now we've got the opportunity to explain what we are, who we are, who's in the league and what direction we're going. The main thing is you don't sell your league, you sell your school [to recruits]."
Tuberville estimated 10 to 12 of the 100 or so high school recruits the Cincinnati coaching staff has talked to since Tuberville was hired in December have had questions about the conference and its future.
The American does, though, have questions about its future. The old Big East records likely will be wiped clean to start fresh. Future bowl tie-ins are up in the air and the conference will be losing Louisville, the early favorite the win the inaugural league title, to the ACC after this season.
Aresco said that if conferences banded together to form a new division, The American would be in it, though Aresco is the only commissioner to include his conference thus far. He rattled off a list of teams The American beat last season as well as other credentials, like comparable budgets and media markets, in an effort to turn the "Power 5" into the "Big 6," a phrase Aresco coined. If such a break were to happen, Aresco said he anticipates it will be sooner rather than later out of fear the current momentum would taper with a longer wait.
"We don't want to be left out of the conversation," he said. "There's a momentum where if we're not vigilant and we're not pleading our own case, no one is going to plead it for us."
Tuberville's pedigree is part of the case Aresco is pleading for The American. In his three years at Texas Tech, he had two eight-win, bowl-winning seasons, and at Auburn he won the SEC West title outright four times.
Picked to finish second behind Louisville in The American this season, expectations are already high for Tuberville and the Bearcats after they finished 10-3 and won a share of the Big East title last year under Butch Jones. In a league where five of the coaches are in their first head-coaching jobs, Tuberville is a much-needed veteran voice.
The league also touts populous cities in large media markets, but as Tuberville pointed out at the podium, the media attention hasn't been overwhelming.
Off the podium, questions did come for Tuberville, not just about his team's future but also about the league's future. Though he expects the league's play to eventually speak for itself, Tuberville's adjusting to being a face of an upstart conference and said he is confident The American will be part of any sweeping change to come for conferences.
"I want to do my part," Tuberville said. "We're in a new league. We want to make it better. It will work, and it will survive."
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