The American Athletic Conference
In the course of its first two seasons, the American Athletic Conference has taken a place at the forefront of intercollegiate athletics, earning a collection of national team and individual championships and football postseason wins that place The American among the elite Division I conferences.
The American consists of 12 prestigious institutions: the University of Central Florida, the University of Cincinnati, East Carolina University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Houston, the University of Memphis, the U.S. Naval Academy (football only), the University of South Florida, Southern Methodist University, Temple University, Tulane University and the University of Tulsa.
Under the leadership of commissioner Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference has earned an impressive list of accomplishments, both in and out of the competitive arena.
The league has produced three NCAA championship teams (UConn men’s basketball in 2014 and UConn women’s basketball in 2014 and 2015) and two individuals who have won
NCAA titles, most recently SMU’s Bryson Dechambeau, who was the 2015 national champion in men’s golf. Additionally, American Athletic Conference teams have advanced to the College World Series, the semifinal and final rounds of the NIT and the match play round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship. Half of the conference’s baseball playing members reached the NCAA Championship in 2015, while The American had the best men’s basketball postseason record of any conference in 2014, when conference teams were a combined 13-4. Teams from The American have registered top-10 national rankings in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, men’s soccer and men’s golf.
The American is quickly making its mark in professional sports as well, beginning with the selection of UCF quarterback Blake Bortles by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
In the 2015 NFL Draft, UCF’s Breshad Perriman and UConn’s Byron Jones were selected consecutively in the first round – Perriman to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 26 overall and Jones to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 27. It was the second straight year in which The American had at least two first-round selections.
In football, two American Athletic Conference football teams were ranked in the top 15 of the final 2013 Associated Press poll, while Memphis finished the season in the top 25 of the 2014 polls as the Tigers tied UCF and Cincinnati for the conference title. Six of the 12 teams that compete in The American in 2015 played in bowl games to cap the 2014 season as Memphis, Houston and Navy earned postseason victories.
The American Athletic Conference holds media rights partnerships with ESPN and CBS Sports which give the conference outstanding national exposure on the two industry leaders in sports television. The football portion of the contract calls for nearly 90 percent of conference-controlled games on national broadcast or national cable platforms. The first American Athletic Conference Football Championship, which will be played Dec. 5, 2015, will be carried on either ABC or ESPN on Championship Saturday.
American Athletic Conference teams have access to the pinnacle of college football’s postseason structure. An American representative would be chosen for the College Football Playoff semifinals if it is among the top four teams in the CFP selection committee’s final ranking. Otherwise, the league would place its champion in either the Vizio Fiesta Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl if it is ranked higher than the champions of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference.
Additionally, The American holds primary or secondary partnerships with 12 bowls for the current six-year cycle, ensuring multiple annual matchups against the nation’s top conferences and providing desirable postseason destinations to member institutions and their fans.
The American Athletic Conference administers to its membership from a state of- the-art office located in Providence, Rhode Island. The location of the conference headquarters – just steps from the city’s Amtrak station and 10 minutes from T.F. Green International Airport – gives the conference easy access to its member schools.
The Sun Belt Conference
The Sun Belt Conference’s “Together We Rise” motto isn’t just hyperbole. It’s a proven fact on many different levels, not the least being its place in the hierarchy of collegiate athletics. As the league prepares to celebrate four decades since its founding in 1976, the Sun Belt occupies a “seat at the table” as a permanent part of the NCAA’s 24-member Board of Directors. That alone insures that the conference has a voice in determining the future as college sports continues to change and evolve.
Changing and evolving have been hallmarks of the league since its existence. College basketball might be a shadow of its current self had the Sun Belt not led the way in the establishment of the shot clock. The conference also wrote history at the start of the century when it inaugurated football as a league sport – becoming the first already-existing Division I conference to take such action.
The Sun Belt was originally founded to give home to some of the nation’s premier mid-major basketball teams, and the league’s history is dotted with success in many different men’s and women’s sports. But when the desire for a higher national profile and the desire of its membership brought about football sponsorship in 2001, the conference was figuratively reborn, and now stands as one of the 10 premier college football leagues in the country.
And, with the recent debut of the College Football Playoff system, the Sun Belt is guaranteed universal access based strictly on performance. A worthy football team in the Sun Belt can be in the national championship picture, and the league is a permanent part of the “Group of Five” conferences (joining the American Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA) that will send its highest-rated champion to a premier Jan. 1 bowl game.
In only 15 years of football, the Sun Belt has earned ties to no fewer than seven bowl games. In addition to the potential of the College Football Playoff, the league has guaranteed spots in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the GoDaddy Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the AutoNation Cure Bowl for bowl-eligible teams each and every season. Beginning in 2016, the Sun Belt will also be part of a conference rotation that will send teams to the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and the Miami Beach Bowl.
No football conference in history has ever boasted as many bowl relationships in its first two decades of existence, but such breakthroughs have been the rule rather than the exception for a league that continues to exceed expectations. Just in the last three seasons, league members have recorded 52 non-conference wins including a record 21 victories outside the league in 2013. The Sun Belt also has a winning record over its fellow “Group of Five” conferences over the past two seasons, and has claimed three bowl victories in those two years.
Gridiron success has grown in the league for several years, but success can also happen overnight. New league member Georgia Southern claimed the Sun Belt football title in its first year in the conference last fall. Appalachian State, another league newbie, rattled off six consecutive wins to close the 2014 football season and finish with a winning 7-5 record. Texas State has finished its two football seasons in the conference as a bowl eligible team, going 6-6 in its inaugural Sun Belt campaign and then 7-5 this past season.
Football, though, is by no means the only hallmark of success for the league. Just this past season, Georgia State knocked off third-seeded Baylor in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and Little Rock defeated sixth-seeded Texas A&M in the women’s NCAA tournament. Baseball and softball continue to put the league in the national spotlight during the spring season, with deep runs into postseason play and high visibility in the national polls becoming a tradition. UL Lafayette’s baseball team was the nation’s No. 1 team in the final third of the 2014 season and has reached the NCAA Super Regional round each of the past two years, while the UL Lafayette softball team has advanced to the Super Regional three straight years including a trip to the 2014 College World Series.
The strength of any league lies in its membership, with the Sun Belt’s 11-school football membership including Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Idaho, UL Lafayette, UL Monroe, New Mexico State, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy. Little Rock and UT Arlington compete in all sports as non-football members while Idaho and New Mexico State are football-only members. Those members give the Sun Belt a mix of the “old” and the “new”, with many long-time Sun Belt institutions continuing to have success and a solid corps of conference newcomers ready to make their marks on the league and national levels.