Maybe if the American Athletic Conference wishes powerfully enough, its dream will come true.
The American’s desire to be considered among the upper echelon of conferences, complete with its own “Power 6” branding, was met with some shrugs at the Mountain West Football Media Summit on Tuesday.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Commissioner Mike Aresco used the phrase “Power Six” or “P6” 16 times during his 23-minute state of the AAC address July 18.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson certainly took note, but also pointed to the Mountain West’s past successes.
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“We talked about that a lot. I’m not going to denigrate any of my peers in other conferences, how they do their business,” Thompson said. “Our record on the field has shown the prowess.”
It’s not a large sample size, but the Mountain West is 6-5 against the American since the latter was founded in 2013. The Mountain West also claims a 4-1 record in Bowl Championship Series/New Year’s Six games, while the American’s current members are 2-3, including their time in the Big East.
The conferences faced off in last December’s Las Vegas Bowl, a 34-10 rout in favor of San Diego State over Houston.
“They’re promoting the same thing that we’re trying to promote, that they belong, too,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “Just like they think they belong or that they should have the chance, we should have the chance to belong. I think we’ve played those guys in the last couple bowl games, and you tell me which conference is better?”
To be considered alongside the Power Five conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — is a noble goal, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a concern to those in the Mountain West. Thompson said that among the so-called “Group of Five” conferences, the Mountain West “could make a strong argument we’re the most prolific” but has no plan to promote a similar branding effort as the American.
The Sun Belt, Mid-American and Conference USA also are in the Group of Five, conferences that generate less revenue and possess less power to influence the direction of college football.
“There’s nine years left on the (College Football Playoff) contract. That’s not changing,” Thompson said. “... You have to have legislation submitted (to add a sixth conference), and it has to be submitted by one of the five autonomous conferences. Who is going to recommend there be a sixth conference to share revenue with?”
Aresco had the idea to elevate the perception of the entire conference in part to promote the value of the league while the Big 12 was considering new members. Thompson said “it was stated last summer” that some Mountain West teams wanted to leave when the Big 12 considered expansion.
“Obviously, this (Big 12 expansion) was a colossal distraction for a long time and, now that it appears over, we have a real opportunity to pursue our goal to be viewed as a Power Six conference,” Aresco said last year. “Our schools have probably never been better known nationally, ironically, because of this process. When a Power Five conference looks to expand, they look at our conference.”
Last week, he said “we have the will and we have the ability” when discussing the conference’s bold strategy. Putting a P6 on a golf ball or a banner does not a high-revenue conference make. But the conference believes with programs like Houston, Navy, Temple and South Florida, it can routinely challenge Power Five schools and make Top 25 appearances.
“I guess that makes sense for them, but I don’t really pay attention to that stuff ... I think the (Mountain West) is a great conference,” Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien said.
Any possible change in what is deemed a power conference ultimately will be judged on multiple criteria, including record against the Power Five. The AAC was 9-14 in such games last year, while the Mountain West won just three. But head to head? The Mountain West feels it has a case as the best among the Group of Five.
“I just feel like if we had to match them up each year, we’d probably beat the American Conference — I’m not even trying to sound arrogant or anything,” San Diego State defensive back Kameron Kelly said. “... I feel like here (in the Mountain West), we have more of a winning culture.”