Six New Faces: American Athletic Conference announces the addition of six new schools

The American Athletic Conference announced the addition of six new universities — Florida Atlantic University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Texas, University of Texas at San Antonio, Rice University and University of Alabama at Birmingham — to the conference on Thursday.

“Nine years ago (when the AAC formed), a lot of people doubted us,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said. “But what we’re doing here is building for the long-term future. We decided there was strength in numbers. We also looked around and said, ‘You know, there are some schools we might be interested in later on. Why not think about taking them now?’

The six universities will join the nine continuing members – East Carolina, Memphis, Navy (football only), South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State (basketball and Olympic sports only) — to bring The American’s membership to 15 schools. The American will compete as a 14-team league in football and in men’s and women’s basketball, among other sports.

The timeline for the arrivals of the six new schools – all from Conference USA – is yet to be finalized, although it is likely to occur in 2023 and 2024.

“We weren’t shocked when we heard the final word last week,” athletic director Darron Boatright said. “I do think we were surprised it was six, which is not a bad thing but six is a lot. We’re ready as a conference to welcome them in and hopefully they can make a difference and increase our attention nationally.”

The American opted to add these six schools following the departures of the University of Houston, University of Cincinnati, and University of Central Florida to the Big-12 conference. The AAC is looking to keep the same high level of the conference, but it will be difficult to replace, especially for men’s basketball.

Houston is fresh off a trip to the Final Four, while Cincinnati has made six trips to the NCAA Tournament during their time in the American. UCF only made it to the tournament once, advancing to the second round in 2019.

According to AAC bylaws, those schools’ exit date would be July 1, 2024, but it is likely those schools will pay an increased exit fee so they will leave prior to the 2023 season.

“Our intention and our hope is we can get back to that,” Boatright said. “We took a pretty hard blow but we’ve added some new conference affiliates that we think can add in other ways, be competitive in some sports that we maybe haven’t been as competitive in. It’s probably not the direction people saw us going, but it’s something we’re proud to be a part of.”

UAB is the most promising basketball program, entering this season with a KenPom ranking of No. 71. North Texas is the latest of the six programs to make the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the second round last spring.

Outside of those two programs, the other four have struggled in recent seasons. None have finished in the top-100 of KenPom in the past 10 years.

“We’re off to a good start this year, without those six schools,” Boatright said. “It’s going to be a long term process, they’re not going to beat the door down on year one, we don’t expect them to.”

The addition of these six new universities could help WSU in recruiting, with the conference adding three Texas schools and Charlotte. The Shockers have recruited well in North Carolina, most recently with Ricky Council IV and in Texas with Morris Udeze and Qua Grant.

“These are (all) areas we recruit – Texas, North Carolina, Florida,” men’s basketball head coach Isaac Brown said. “That helps us a lot in recruiting, for those kids to be able to go back home and play against those teams in their (home) state. It does a lot for us in recruiting.”

WSU is entering its fifth year in the AAC, which Boatright said has been a successful partnership. The Shockers are coming off one of its best seasons in school history after winning two regular season conference championships.

“I think it’s been very positive for us,” Boatright said. “I think it’s been something our fans have been excited about. I know our coaches have been excited about it. It’s been positive and I look for that to remain moving forward.”