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 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.
The Sun Belt Conference
With each passing season, the Sun Belt Conference continues to challenge itself, and its competitors, in all aspects of intercollegiate athletics. Not content with being simply the youngest football conference in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, the conference has shown that it can rise each and every season that comes along. Since the birth of the league as a FBS member league in 2001, the evidence is clear that the conference is indeed rising above competitors and peer conferences.
At no time has league athletic success been more obvious than during the course of the last several football seasons. In recent years, Sun Belt members have participated in as many as six bowl games, a 50 percent increase in the league’s former high-water mark and only a decade removed from a “one-bowl league” moniker in its formative years.
The Sun Belt has earned due respect in the FBS over the last several years by consistently beating teams from peer conferences, winning bowl games and upsetting Power Five teams. In fact, the 2018 football season was direct evidence of the Sun Belt’s success as the conference broke its record for non-conference wins in a single season. The 24 total wins eclipsed the previous mark of 22 set in 2016. Additionally, the Sun Belt’s 21 regular season non-conference wins broke the record of 19 that was set in 2013. The Sun Belt also had the best non-conference winning percentage of any Group of Five Conference this past season.
The Sun Belt’s partnership with ESPN was revamped in 2018 and is the most significant and extensive multimedia rights agreement in conference history. Highlights of the contract include that: a minimum of 500 events a year will appear on an ESPN platform beginning in 2020-21 and that, every Sun Belt football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball game will be viewable on an ESPN platform. It was also announced that, linear network football games at Sun Belt home venues will expand to a minimum of 10 games a year on a combination of ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, that all Sun Belt Championship events will be viewable on an ESPN platform each academic year that will give exposure to all 18 conference sports and that digital productions will expand to include regular-season competition in Sun Belt sports that have received only limited coverage previously.
The Sun Belt Conference and the Cure Bowl also partnered in benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). Sun Belt schools participated in Pink Saturday games and displayed specially designed pink Sun Belt Kicks Cancer kicking nets on their home sideline during games throughout the month of October.
The Sun Belt Conference and the College Football Playoff Foundation annually partner to recognize teachers through the CFP Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers platform. Each Sun Belt football-playing institution received a $10,000 grant from the CFP Foundation to use in their respective local communities to recognize teachers for their hard work and dedication and to provide classroom supplies and professional development resources.
The conference is currently comprised of 12 institutions – Appalachian State, Little Rock, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, ULM, South Alabama, UTA, Texas State and Troy – and competes in the FBS as a 10-team league. Little Rock and UTA are full Sun Belt members in all sports other than football. The league also have two associate members in men’s soccer, Central Arkansas and Howard.
The mix of members also gives the league vitality and diversity across the South. The mix of regions and cultures provides a rare opportunity for student-athletes and staffers to experience many environments and the chance to experience that diversity without leaving their own campuses.
Many individuals from Sun Belt institutions have brought distinction to their alma maters, and not just in athletics. For every All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware (Troy) and NFL Man of the Year Charles Tillman (Louisiana), world ranked golfer and US Open winner Dustin Johnson (Coastal Carolina) and for every World Series MVP David Freese (South Alabama) hailing from Sun Belt schools, there are also U.S. presidents (Lyndon Johnson, Texas State), business icons (Chick-fil-A president Daniel Cathy, Georgia Southern) and nationally known entertainers (Ludacris, Georgia State; Tim McGraw, ULM and George Strait, Texas State).
These proud alumni, as well as those who represent the dozen league institutions, are proof that the Sun Belt Conference is a league of excitement, a league of opportunity and one that continues to provide the promise of success with each new day.
The Mid-American Conference
Providing leadership in education and diversity, in 2019 the Mid-American Conference moves into its 74th year of service to our students.
Since its inception in 1946, the Mid-American Conference has progressively grown and developed into one of the most aggressive Division I conferences in the country. One of only 10 football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences, the MAC named Dr. Jon A. Steinbrecher as its eighth commissioner in March of 2009.
The league hosts championships in 23 sports, including neutral site events at some of the finest facilities in the nation – football (Ford Field, Detroit), men’s and women’s basketball (Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland), softball (Firestone Stadium, Akron) and baseball (Sprenger Stadium, Avon, Ohio). The MAC secured a two-year contract extension with Ford Field to host the MAC Football Championship Game through the 2021 football season, anchored a six-year contract extension for the MAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse through the 2023 season, and stabilized a five-year contract extension through the 2020 season for the MAC Baseball Tournament at Sprenger Stadium in Avon, Ohio.
In the summer of 2014, the MAC and ESPN announced a historic 13-year rights extension deal through the 2026-27 season for expanded national television and digital distribution. This is the largest and most extensive agreement in the history of the Conference and brings long-term security for the MAC through the 2026-27 academic year.
ESPN has exclusive television and digital distribution rights for all MAC sporting events, and guarantees coverage of every football game, men’s and women’s basketball games and select Olympic sporting events. The MAC and ESPN have established on-campus production capabilities that provide a significant increase in the national coverage of baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling and Olympic sports on ESPN platforms. This has opened up nearly 92 million households from ESPN platforms for exposure to MAC sports for the first time in Conference history. Through this ESPN partnership, the MAC and CBS Sports Network announced another four-year sublicensing agreement to expand its national coverage of football and basketball through the 2022-23 season.
For the second time in Mid-American Conference history a member institution played in one of the prestigious New Year’s Six Bowl Games, as 2016 MAC Champion Western Michigan faced Wisconsin in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
During the 2018 season, the MAC witnessed six members accept bowl invitations. The MAC single-season record for bowl invitations is seven which occurred in both the 2012 and 2016 bowl seasons. This also marks the 11th time in MAC history to have five or more programs receive a bowl invitation (2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) in a single-season. In the previous eight bowl seasons, the MAC has a record of 13-33 in 46 bowl games – 2018 (1-5); 2017 (1-4); 2016 (0-6); 2015 (3-4); 2014 (2-3); 2013 (0-5); 2012 (2-5); 2011 (4-1).
In December of 2013, former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch finished third overall in the Heisman Trophy voting, the highest ever finish by a MAC student. Lynch was invited to the Heisman Trophy Award ceremony in New York City and became only the third MAC student-athlete to receive an invitation to the ceremony – Marshall QB Chad Pennington (1999) and Marshall WR Randy Moss (1997).
During the 2017 NFL Draft, Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis was the fifth overall selection by the Tennessee Titans. Davis’ selection was the highest ever for the Broncos program and tied the second-highest ever draft selection by a student from the MAC. It also marked the third MAC football student selected in the top five of the NFL draft over the last six seasons. In the 2014 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack was the fifth overall selection by the Oakland Raiders. Mack’s selection was the highest-ever for the Buffalo program and the second highest ever selection for a MAC student. In the 2013 NFL Draft, Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher was selected as the first overall selection by the Kansas City Chiefs, making Fisher the first-ever football player from the MAC selected first overall in the NFL Draft.
In 2012, the MAC witnessed a record-setting seven teams receive bowl invitations, including the first ever BCS Bowl invitation with Northern Illinois playing in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013. The MAC also had four football programs ranked in the top 25 of national polls – Northern Illinois, Kent State, Toledo and Ohio—as the BCS Standings had two MAC programs in the Top 25 at the end of the regular season with No. 15 Northern Illinois and No. 25 Kent State. The MAC also set a Conference record for the most wins against FBS opponents with 16 victories.
In the fall of 2013, the MAC announced the creation of newly created bowl games in Boca Raton, Fla., Nassau, Bahamas, and Montgomery, Ala. for a six-year period (2014-2019). The creation of the Boca Raton and Bahamas Bowls were the centerpiece of a joint agreement between several FBS conferences and will be supported by several FBS conferences on a six-year rotating basis.
The Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl is owned and operated by ESPN and is played at FAU Stadium, an open-air stadium which seats nearly 30,000 fans on the campus of Florida Atlantic University. The Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl is played at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium. The Camellia Bowl, based in Montgomery, Ala., is owned and operated by ESPN and is played at the Cramton Bowl, a 25,000-seat stadium.
The MAC will increase its primary bowl agreements to a Conference-best six guaranteed bowl games coming in the next bowl cycle in 2020. The MAC will have bowl agreements with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl; Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, Arizona Bowl and Quick Lane Bowl, and will be in a rotation with other conferences to appear in the Camellia Bowl, Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, Frisco Bowl and the newly created Myrtle Beach Bowl. These bowl agreements provide the MAC the opportunity to build on relationships with multiple bowl partners, expand national television exposure and broaden geographical opportunities to perform against peer FBS conferences.
In 2017, the MAC witnessed former Akron Zips defensive lineman Jason Taylor inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2017 Hall of Fame Class. Taylor, who spent 13 of his 15 seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5, 2017 in Canton, Ohio. Taylor is the first Zips player elected to the Hall of Fame and was a third-round pick out of Akron in the 1997 NFL draft. Taylor ended his career in 2011 as the Miami Dolphins’ all-time leader in sacks and forced fumbles. A six-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time AP All-Pro first-team choice, Taylor was named the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was selected as the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2007.
Joining the list of MAC alum heading to Canton, former Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss increased this number to three, as Moss was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2018 Hall of Fame Class. Moss, who was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 1997, posted 78 catches for 1,709 yards and 28 touchdowns with Marshall in 1996 and added 96 receptions for 1,820 yards and 26 touchdowns in 1997. Moss was selected in the first round, 21st overall, of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Moss spent 14 seasons in the NFL with Minnesota, Oakland, New England, Tennessee and San Francisco and amassed 982 career receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns and was selected to five Pro Bowls. Moss becomes the third former MAC football standout to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Moss joins Jason Taylor of Akron and former Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Moss was a member of the Marshall Thundering Herd, who competed in the MAC before departing after the 2004 season.
MAC football alums continue to make strides in the NFL as former Miami quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards with 5,129 yards for Pittsburgh in 2018. In addition, former Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 15 for Pittsburgh last season. Five former MAC players were named to the 2019 NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando – Antonio Brown (CMU), WR Pittsburgh; Eric Fisher (CMU), OT Kansas City; Khalil Mack (BUF), DE Chicago; Brett Kern (TOL), P Tennessee and Brandon Brooks (MIA), OG Philadelphia.
Kent State’s Julian Edelman was named Super Bowl MVP as part of New England’s 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Edelman, a nine-year NFL veteran, won his third Super Bowl as a member of the Patriots, and became the first former MAC student-athlete to be named NFL Super Bowl MVP, and only the seventh wide receiver in NFL history to be named Super Bowl MVP. Also, Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in the NFL (33 years old during 2018 NFL season), led the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Title and Super Bowl appearance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Northern Illinois scored the final 20 points in the 2018 Marathon MAC Football Championship Game to turn a 29-10 deficit into a 30-29 win over Buffalo for the Huskies fourth MAC football title in the last eight seasons. NIU’s junior defensive end Sutton Smith was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and Smith earned First Team All-American honors by The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and College Football News.com and Second Team All-American recognition by Walter Camp Foundation, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).
The MAC had nine draft selections in the 2019 NFL Draft, along with 36 former MAC football student athletes who either signed NFL rookie free agent contracts or received invites to rookie mini-camps with various NFL clubs. The MAC modern era record for number of selections in an NFL Draft is 11 draft selections, which happened two years ago (2017 NFL Draft) and in the 2005 NFL Draft.
The selections in the 2019 NFL Draft – DB Sean Bunting (Central Michigan) by Tampa Bay (2nd Round, 39th overall); OT Max Scharping (Northern Illinois) by Houston (2nd Round, 55th overall); WR Diontae Johnson (Toledo) by Pittsburgh (3rd Round, 66th overall); DE Maxx Crosby (Eastern Michigan) by Oakland (4th Round, 106th overall); DE Sutton Smith (Northern Illinois) by Pittsburgh (6th Round, 175th overall); DB Ka’dar Hollman (Toledo) by Green Bay (6th Round, 185th overall); DB Xavier Crawford (Central Michigan) by Houston (6th Round, 195th overall); LB Ulysees Gilbert (Akron) by Pittsburgh (6th Round, 207th overall) and WR Scott Miller (Bowling Green) by Tampa Bay (6th Round, 208th overall).
The Conference USA
Conference USA continues to compete and promote the success of its student-athletes. The league has adapted to the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics in its 26-year history, but the commitment to excellence, integrity, leadership and its student athletes in competition, academics and community is unwavering.
Conference USA enjoys a far-reaching fan base with its 14 members: Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP, UTSA and WKU.
Debuting in 1995, Conference USA teams have combined for 114 bowl appearances in football, 108 NCAA Tournament appearances in basketball, including three Final Fours, 73 NCAA baseball appearances including six College World Series berths, 96 NCAA soccer tournament appearances including four trips to the College Cup, and 40 individual national champions in track and field and cross country.
Conference USA sponsors competition in 19 sports – nine for men (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field) and 10 for women (basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball).
SUCCESS ON THE PLAYING FIELD
Conference USA performers have achieved great success in competition, placing the league among the top conferences in the nation.
- 114 teams have earned bowl bids
- Eligible for the College Football Playoff
- Conference USA has seven guaranteed bowl selections for the 2020 season and associations with 16 different bowls. C-USA will send teams to the Bahamas Bowl, R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and SoFi Hawai’i Bowl this year. The conference’s remaining four guaranteed selections in 2020 could include the LendingTree Bowl (Mobile, Alabama), along with 11 games which are owned and operated by ESPN Events. The league also has a secondary agreement with the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., for this season.
C-USA MULTIMEDIA PARTNERS
C-USA enjoys significant exposure through various multimedia partners. Partnerships include CBS Sports Network, Stadium, ESPN and Facebook. The multi-tiered selection process that is rooted in partnering with all entities has substantially increased the number of national, regional and digital appearances for football, men’s and women’s basketball, and several other conference Olympic sports.
C-USA membership includes eight institutions in the Top 75 television markets, six in the Top 40 media markets and five in the Top 25 according to SNL Kagan. C-USA home markets include more than 13 million TV households with a total population of more than 30 million people.