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 three New Year’s Six bowl champions (UCF in 2013 and 2017; Houston in 2015), 12 NCAA individual championships, and a Rhodes Scholar.
The American has seen a member school claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl five times in the league’s first seven football seasons, including the 2019 campaign, when Memphis reached the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The American finished the 2019 football season with four top-25 teams; among the 10 FBS conferences, only the SEC and Big Ten had more ranked teams in the final polls.
Individual teams in The American have enjoyed some of their best seasons in program history as members of the conference. 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 five years (2015, 2017, 2019), including a school-record 12 wins in 2019. Temple enjoyed its first 10-win season in school history in 2015. USF finished in the top 25 for the first two times in program history (2016, 2017). Cincinnati has registered its third and fourth 11-win seasons in program history in 2018 and 2019. SMU returned to national prominence in 2019 with a 10-win season, during which the Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 14 nationally.
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.
American Athletic Conference student-athletes have distinguished themselves in all facets of intercollegiate athletics. Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich won the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player in 2015, while Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting that year. More recently, Houston’s Ed Oliver won the 2017 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, while UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was the only player in the nation to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting in both 2017 and 2018. UConn standout Breanna Stewart finished her career in 2016 as the most decorated player in college basketball. Reynolds and Stewart were selected as the winners of the 2016 AAU James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athletes, marking only the second time in the 86-year history of the award that multiple winners were chosen.
American Athletic Conference alumni have made their mark in professional 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.
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). When the extension takes 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 five 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 bowls for the new cycle, which begins 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.