AAC Commissioner: ‘Wichita State has had a real impact on the conference’


Joseph Barringhaus

The American Athletic Conference tournement trophy sits in the concourse of the FedExForum before Wichita State’s semifinal game against Cincinnati on March 16, 2019 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus / The Sunflower.)

NEW YORK CITY — American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco is excited to see where the conference is going, not just in basketball, but all sports.

Aresco participated in a question and answer with The Sunflower ahead of Wichita State competing in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals.

Sunflower: How has Wichita State changed the conference’s dynamic in all sports?

Aresco: Wichita State has had a real impact on the conference — especially with its prestige, mainly in basketball. Even this year, they didn’t get off to the best start, but look at what Gregg (Marshall) has done to bring that team around, and they have a really bright future again.

It’s helped the school as well. It’s really energized the fan base. I’m really pleased with the school and what they’ve done, and not with just men’s basketball, their Olympic sports are really good, too.

Sunflower: With basketball being the hot topic in March, what does it mean for the conference to have four teams in the NCAA Tournament, two in the NIT, and one in the CBI?

Aresco: It’s welcome, that’s for sure.

We knew we were going to get better in basketball, but we’ve had a lot of heartbreak and tough losses. This year we have the UCF/Duke game, and other games we probably should’ve won. We are happy to get a team in the Sweet 16 with Houston, and then to have Wichita State in the NIT semifinals.

We also have UConn in the women’s regionals again. It’s really been a good spring for us, and basketball is on the cusp of becoming really good, and it’s getting there faster than we thought it would.

By next year, we will absolutely be dynamic.

Sunflower: In the near future, do you feel like the conference can exceed the four bids, and produce more nationally known schools?

Aresco: Absolutely. I think down the road four NCAA Tournament bids will be the floor. Right now, it’s been our peak, but right now we are looking at five, six, or seven bids down the road.

Just look at the pedigree of this conference. You have UConn in the recruiting stage with Dan Hurley, what he did at Rhode Island will transfer over. You can look at what Memphis is doing, that goes without saying. Wichita State is improving and will be better next year.

Having Houston and Cincinnati as perennials, and we have a lot going on at UCF and USF. And now Ron Hunter at Tulane. Temple is also good.

I don’t see a reason for this conference, who’s playing schedules tougher than it’s ever played, to be more respected and send five, six, or even seven teams to the tournament. It’s definitely an achievable goal.

Sunflower: Tulane just brought in Ron Hunter, a nationally known name. What does that mean for the rest of the conference to bring in his name to go along with the other great coaches in the league?

Aresco: We have a lot of great coaches in this conference. In basketball and football, too. I know there have been rumors on some of our coaches leaving, but we still have them right now. Bringing in Ron Hunter is fantastic. You go up and down the line, we have outstanding coaches.

Sunflower: Overall, where do you see this conference going in all sports?

Aresco: I’m hoping that we just continue to improve. There’s still a lot of room for everyone to improve.