NEWPORT, R.I. -- The new American Athletic Conference “could well be above the line” in a new Division 4 according to AAC commissioner Mike Aresco after speaking to his peers in other leagues.
In an exclusive interview, Aresco told CBSSports.com he wasn't sure what the dividing line would be for the supposed new division within the NCAA structure. But, he said, “it's probably like the Supreme Court. You know it when you see it. You know, we should be in that group.”
Aresco was referring to former Supreme Court judge Potter Stewart's famous line regarding obscenity.
There have been few details about how Division 4 might work. But it definitely became more of a reality in the last two weeks when the Big 5 commissioners all addressed in some form during their preseason media days. While a breakaway by the Big 5 (ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten) is a last resort, it is the hammer those conferences need to push their agenda. So far, it only includes a common desire to pay a stipend to players. But even that issue could prove complicated.
Aresco repeatedly made the case for his new conference belonging in whatever shape a new division might take. He said the 2014 lineup of 11 American schools “overwhelmingly” support a stipend however, “we didn't have an actual vote.”
“I did talk to some commissioners -- I won't name them -- one said to me, ‘We think you could well be above the line,' Aresco said. “When you hear talk like that, you know that this is potentially very real.”
When the American lineup is firmed up in 2014, it will include three teams -- Temple, South Florida, Memphis -- that have never won an outright FBS conference title. SMU's last outright title was 1982. Houston hasn't been to a major bowl since 1985.
Per CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler, Connecticut is the only American member going forward ranked in the top 50 nationally in revenue. (Louisville and Rutgers leave after this season.)
It's clear that the discussion at the moment is about those five power conferences. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany last week mentioned some form of “us five” four times during an address to the media at his conference's media days.
“There's been more of a consolidation of power,” Aresco said. “There also is the growing perception that schools don't necessarily have enough in common even though they play at a certain level.”
There's also a reason that the American, beginning with the playoff era in 2014, is below that line in the so-called “Group of Five” with the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA and Mountain West. During the BCS era, the Big 5 further separated themselves in terms of attendance, budgets, finances and championships.
“You would have to be naïve not to think there is a significant to separate into a fourth division,” Aresco said. “We have to be ahead of that curve. We have to be making the case that we should be in it. If you're not in it and it does happen, there is the perception that you're not playing at the highest level.”
At the moment, a new division would likely be more about governance than anything else. The Big 5 want freedom to vote more freely on issues themselves without being dragged down by a voting bloc of smaller schools. Asked to define that dividing line, Aresco said, “That's a hard question. You probably don't want an arbitrary cut off. I talked to one commissioner who said, ‘There probably shouldn't be an arbitrary cut off.'
“What we do on the field is going to be critical.”