The Commissioner for AAC is right – it’s time to drop the Power 5 label

Mike Aresco had enough. The American Athletic Conference commissioner released a lengthy statement on March 9 explaining why the “Power 5” label no longer works. He’s right.

For nearly 10 years, the AAC has struggled trying to conform. For a time, they attempted to get the media and many in college football to adopt the moniker “Power 6,” going so far as to design a P6 logo to adorn their down markers on the football’s touchline. The conference was successful in both football and basketball, but when the College Football Playoffs started, they looked inside from the outside. Even when Cincinnati finally made the 2021 CFP semifinals, ESPN and others called them a “non-P5” team. It burned.

Aresco called a spade a spade. In his statement:

It is disturbing to see that media-manufactured labels that are endorsed by college sports leadership do not reflect the reality of future college sports. This creates a rift at five that shouldn’t exist and creates deleterious effects. Recently, documents have come to light describing a P5 legislative initiative on NIL that has not been shared with the wider membership. This is not a healthy approach, as such an initiative should be a concerted effort by the broader Division I members, including all FBS conferences. These five conferences don’t speak for all of collegiate athletics. The terms Power Five and Group of Five should be discarded and restricted to college history. There are 10 FBS conferences, some more successful than others, but all have similar goals, experience similar challenges and compete successfully against each other.

After putting the finishing touches to a 12-team playoff, the financial future looks brighter for the newly expanded 2023 version of the AAC. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA come on board and will erase losses from Houston, Cincinnati and the University of Central Florida, who move to the Big 12. It will come with a hefty penalty — it was reported by The Athletic that every university will have to pay the AAC $18 million over the next 14 years for leaving a year early.

Aresco spoke in more detail at Saturday’s AAC men’s basketball tournament. “The gap between the #2 conference, be it the Big Ten or the SEC, and the #3 is now much larger than between the #3 conference and the American.” If you look at some of the conference-wide earnings, he’s not that far away from it.

Comparison of selected conference earnings (2021)

The gulf between the SEC, the Big Ten and everyone else is widening; However, there are some distinct differences in conference revenue streams with the four remaining conferences. If you look at post-season earnings, the gap between the Big Ten and the ACC is $289.59 million. The gap between the ACC and the AAC is $242.77 million.

Therein lies the problem. The AAC had post-season successes in football. But some of that has to do with bowl game payouts. “If the difference is so big, then why does the American have four New Year’s soccer wins against the top 10 teams and dozens of regular-season soccer wins against the captioned P5,” Aresco said.

The problem is clearly getting to the CFP semi-finals. In this sense, the AAC can thank Cincinnati for a blockbuster year 2021. Those who follow football closely know that television viewers influence part of the decision-making process about who gets picked for the ‘last four’ and who gets left behind. It didn’t hurt that Cincinnati faced Alabama in that match.

Aresco believes the 12-team CFP is setting the stage for his conference for the first time in the Autonomy 5 era, even if it’s just as the media and others describe it. Noting his irritation that the conference was left out of a NIL conversation held with other commissioners, he argued that federal NIL lobbying and legislation affects all of Division I, not just a select few.

The reality is that football earnings simply mean more. As Florida State Athletics Director Michael Alford recently told his trustees, when it comes to determining a conference’s media revenue, it’s worth about 80% of the equation. While the AAC will likely gain some ground if they win more than one team and advance in the bracket, so will the others.

It’s time to ditch the “Power 5” label – it’s no longer accurate. When it comes to revenue, it’s certainly The Big Two. The question becomes – what do you call everyone else?

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