American Athletic Conference teams have access to the pinnacle of college football’s postseason structure. An American representative would be chosen for the College Football Playoff semifinals if it is among the top four teams in the CFP selection committee’s final ranking.
About The American Athletic Conference
The American Athletic Conference consists of 12 prestigious institutions: the University of Central Florida, the University of Cincinnati, East Carolina University, the University of Houston, the University of Memphis, the U.S. Naval Academy (in football only), the University of South Florida Southern Methodist University, Temple University, Tulane University, the University of Tulsa, and Wichita State University (in basketball and Olympic sports).
Under the leadership of commissioner Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference has fashioned an impressive list of accomplishments in the competitive arena, in the classroom and in support of student-athlete welfare. The American is firmly established as a Power 6 conference thanks to its collection of national team and individual championships, football and basketball postseason victories, expansive media rights contract with ESPN, and its commitment to providing the highest levels of support for student-athletes.
The league has produced four NCAA championship teams in addition to a College Football Playoff semifinalist, three New Year’s Six bowl champions (UCF in 2013 and 2017; Houston in 2015), two NCAA Men’s Final Four participants, six Women’s Final Four teams, an NIT champion, 13 NCAA individual championships, and a Rhodes Scholar. Additionally, American Athletic Conference teams have advanced to the College World Series, qualified for the match play round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship and registered multiple top-10 finishes at the NCAA Cross Country and Outdoor Track and Field championships.
The American has seen a member school claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl seven times in the league’s first nine football seasons, including the 2021 campaign, when Cincinnati became the first American Athletic Conference team to reach the College Football Playoff. The American was the only conference to have a team in the College Football Playoff and the NCAA Men’s Final Four in the 2021 calendar year.
Individual teams in The American have enjoyed some of their best football seasons in program history as members of the conference. Cincinnati has registered back-to-back top-10 finishes after the Bearcats were No. 8 in the final 2020 national polls and No. 4 in 2021 after their historic CFP appearance. UCF finished in the national top 10 twice as a conference member – in 2013 and 2017. Houston went 13-1 in the 2015 football season, setting a school record for wins, while Navy won a program-record 11 games in 2015, its first season in the conference, and matched that mark with its 2019 campaign. Memphis, which had not won 10 games in a season since 1938, has registered three 10-win seasons in the last seven years (2015, 2017, 2019), including a school-record 12 wins in 2019. Temple enjoyed its first 10-win season in school history in 2015. South Florida finished in the top 25 for the first two times in program history (2016, 2017). SMU returned to national prominence in 2019 with a 10-win season, during which the Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 14 nationally. Tulsa returned to the top 25 for the first time in 11 years in 2020. East Carolina earned a top-20 ranking in 2014, while Tulane played in three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.
Since the conference’s reconstitution in 2013-14, teams from The American have registered top-10 national rankings in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, men’s golf, men’s cross country and men’s track and field.
Under The American’s banner, Houston’s men’s basketball team reached the 2021 NCAA Final Four and was ranked No. 3 in the final coaches’ poll, while Memphis claimed the 2021 NIT title. Houston’s men’s track and field team took third place at the 2018 and 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Tulsa has registered top-six national finishes at the 2019 and 2020 NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championships.
American Athletic Conference student-athletes have distinguished themselves in all facets of intercollegiate athletics. Memphis quarterback Brady White was the 2020 winner of the National Football Foundation’s James V. Campbell Trophy as the top scholar-athlete in college football. Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich won the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player in 2015, while Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins repeated that feat in 2020. Houston’s Ed Oliver won the 2017 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, while Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant won the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back. The American has had four top-10 Heisman Trophy finishes as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was fifth in 2015, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was eighth in 2017 and sixth in 2018, and Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder was eighth in 2021. Reynolds was also selected as the winner of the 2016 AAU James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.
Additionally, SMU’s Avery Acker was chosen as the Division I women’s volleyball Academic All-America of the Year in 2015, while Tulsa cross country standout Kirk Smith was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar in the fall of 2016.
American Athletic Conference alumni have made their mark in professional and international sports as well, beginning with the selection of UCF quarterback Blake Bortles by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. A number of American Athletic Conference athletes have been selected in the first round of the professional entry drafts in football, basketball, baseball and soccer, including former Memphis center James Wiseman, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and former Wichita State third-baseman Alec Bohm, the No. 3 selection in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft. Former SMU standout Bryson DeChambeau, who was the 2014 American Athletic Conference individual champion, went on to win the 2015 NCAA Championship, the 2015 US Amateur title and has since become one of the top players on the PGA Tour, including a win at the 2020 U.S. Open. Former Memphis tennis player Joe Salisbury, a 2014 all-conference selection, has gone on to win the 2020 Australian Open men’s doubles championship and the 2021 French Open mixed doubles title. Former Tulane standout Dominik Koepfer has earned a top-50 world ranking in men’s tennis. Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson led the United States volleyball team to its first gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The American announced a lucrative and comprehensive media rights extension with ESPN in May of 2019, providing the conference with a stronger and more extensive presence on ESPN’s primary television networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU). Since the extension took effect in the 2020-21 academic year, a minimum of 40 regular-season football telecasts and 60 regular-season men’s basketball games per season will appear on those primary networks. Nearly every conference-controlled game in all sports will appear either on an ESPN network or on ESPN+. The football championship game, all rounds of the men’s basketball championship, and multiple rounds of the women’s basketball championship, will be on linear ESPN television networks.
The first seven American Athletic Conference Football Championships were televised by ABC as part of Championship Saturday. Subsequent championship games will appear on either ABC or ESPN through the duration of the 12-year extension.
American Athletic Conference teams have access to the pinnacle of college football’s postseason structure. An American representative would be chosen for the College Football Playoff semifinals if it is among the top four teams in the CFP selection committee’s final ranking. Otherwise, the league would place its champion in a New Year’s Bowl if it is ranked higher than the champions of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference.
Additionally, The American holds primary or secondary partnerships with an expansive group of bowls for the new cycle, which began in 2020, ensuring multiple annual matchups against the nation’s top conferences and providing desirable postseason destinations for member institutions.
Away from the competitive arena, The American has established itself as a leader in the area of student-athlete wellness, both through the adoption of NCAA autonomous legislation on matters including full cost of attendance and nutrition. The conference, in conjunction with its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has also launched the Pow6rful Minds campaign to improve awareness and education on mental issues and recognize the scholarly achievements of the conference’s student-athletes.