The American Athletic Conference is adding the University of North Texas, UAB, Texas-San Antonio, Rice, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to the league, replacing three schools that are scheduled to depart for the Big 12 Conference and growing to 14 teams.
The AAC announced the additions Thursday, a move that it hopes will stabilize the conference in the short term and allow it to withstand future poaching of its members by wealthier leagues.
The conference said when exactly the new members join is still to be determined.
"Moving into the American Athletic Conference is a proud moment not only for our athletics program but for our entire university," UNT President Neal Smatresk said Thursday in a news release. "As UNT has grown and made numerous advances in our academic programs and research enterprise in recent years, elevating our athletics program into a more prestigious conference like The American is a natural progression. This is an exciting new beginning for us."
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The American, formerly the Big East, has been a feeder conference from Power Five leagues for nearly two decades. Most recently, the Big 12 announced the additions of AAC powers Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida to replace Southeastern Conference-bound Oklahoma and Texas.
The Sooners and Longhorns have said they will join the SEC in 2025, but quicker is possible.
The AAC’s move strips Conference USA of six schools, leaving that league both searching for new members and trying to fend off other poachers. The Sun Belt has said it is interested in expanding beyond its current 10 football members and some of C-USA’s remaining eight schools would be geographic fits.
The American was born in 2013 from the downfall of Big East football, rebuilding around mostly C-USA schools. The AAC emerged as the strongest of the so-called Group of Five conferences when it comes to football during the College Football Playoff era. Five times in seven seasons, the American has earned the New Year’s Six bowl spot that goes to the highest-ranked G5 conference champion.
But four of those championships were won by the schools now heading to the Big 12.
The AAC targeted schools located in big media markets and fertile recruiting territory, hoping that with better exposure and more revenue, they develop into the next UCF.
The AAC is at the front end of a 10-year deal with ESPN that will pay the conference’s schools between $7 million and $8 million per year over the length of the contract. It is unclear whether the value of the deal will be impacted by the change in membership, but the contract makes the conference the wealthiest in major college football outside the Power Five.
Conference USA has floundered in recent seasons by comparison, with TV deals that have generated well under $1 million per year per school and made the league’s games tricky for its fans to find.
The most recent deal provides more consistency with CBS Sports Network as the primary cable TV home of C-USA’s games and some streaming on ESPN+.