The AAC (American Athletic Conference) is a rising conference in college football. The SEC and other Power 5 conferences seem to have little respect for the AAC. However, the AAC has more than competed with the SEC in bowl games. Central Florida claimed a National Championship in 2017 after an undefeated season. The NCAA recognized Central Florida’s championship. The championship claim has fueled “playoff expansion” conversation. Nevertheless, many fans of elite programs didn’t appreciate Central Florida’s claim.
UAB made significant strides over the past two years as well. The program won the Conference USA Championship last year, and they beat Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton bowl. The Blazers have a brand new football facility and will be playing in a brand new stadium in 2021. In addition, UAB inked a new deal with Learfield IMG. The royalty deal will bring an additional 17 million dollars to the athletic program.
The commissioner of the AAC told the Sports Business Daily, “We will never settle for second class status, we will never accept a silly non-power designation.” UAB and Birmingham acted similarly in their fight for respect. The city donated $500,000 to help bring back the program, and 84% of students voted to increase student fees. Head coach Bill Clark, President Watts, and athletic director Mark Ingram raised 5.2 million dollars during one meeting with a few business leaders.
UAB understands competition with college football’s elite. The university has played several SEC teams, and it has a victory over LSU. UAB’s campus is located only 45 miles from the #1 blue blood in the country. Despite playing several “non-power five” schools, Alabama shows no interest in playing the Blazers. However, UAB is no longer a small satellite campus. It is a sprawling urban university which covers over 100 city blocks. Around 46,000 people either attend or work at the university. The university speaks softly, but it is carrying a growing stick.
The AAC was awarded a new contract with ESPN last month. This was a definite step forward for the conference. The AAC increases its footprint with the ESPN contract. Meanwhile, UAB sits in the #1 College Football television market in the country. In addition, the city of Birmingham is the 44th largest television market in the country. The city is a larger market than Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Louisville, and Memphis. UAB would enhance the AAC’s market share, and the conference would increase the exposure of UAB’s program.
Rivalries create passion, momentum, and dollars. The AAC would inherit established rivalries by adding UAB to its conference. UAB developed rivalries with Memphis, Cincinnati, and East Carolina before those schools left Conference USA. Renewed rivalries would instantly bolster the interest in UAB and the AAC.
Some reports suggest the AAC will not replace the University of Connecticut. However, the leagues Assistant Commissioner, Chuck Sullivan, said no decision about conference membership had been made. “He, (Commissioner Mike Aresco) may have more to say on the topic during our football media days,” said Sullivan, “but I don’t anticipate anything changing before then.” UAB has remained silent on the issue. However, many believe UAB would be very interested in the American Athletic Conference.
UAB may not be very attractive to the AAC at first look. However, the two entities may be headed for a serious relationship. Both entities are bold, both are fighting the same battle, and both are growing in exposure and momentum. It may indeed be the perfect marriage.