It’s cute to puff your chest out about UCF’s national championship claims as evidence that your conference deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the P5 bunch — oops, “P6”, as the the American Athletic Conference would prefer for you to think of it — but even if you accept the argument that the AAC teams are increasingly competitive with, say, the Auburns of the college football world, the reality is that’s not what will let the conference run with the big dogs.
… For all of AAC commissioner Mike Aresco’s stumping for the sport’s model to change to a Power Six, there’s no chance of that transcending empty rhetoric until the league’s financial revenues look more Rockefeller than Bundy.
The league is wheezing through the final two seasons of a seven-year, $126 million television contract with ESPN that was essentially a hostage negation that doubled as a TV deal. The AAC, fresh off a spate of realignment departures, did the best it could at the time and signed on for short money to be more attractive this time around. For ESPN, it has proven a grand bargain for the quality and quantity of content. (Essentially, each major conference program in the Power Five gets more television revenue annually than all 12 teams in the AAC).
These days, the schools in the AAC are getting somewhere around $2 million a year in television revenue, which means that schools like Clemson and LSU are paying their defensive coordinators more than UCF and Houston are receiving each year in TV revenue. With the revenue threshold for the Big Ten crossing $50 million annually per school – much of which is from television – the distance that the AAC is behind financially is staggering.
No one knows this better than Aresco, who told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview: “This TV deal will determine how people view the conference,” Aresco said, “and how they view me.”
You ain’t nothin’ until you’ve got your own conference broadcast network. That’s the real playing field these days.