The musical chairs of conference realignment, largely quiet for the past few years, may blare again with Air Force among those scurrying to a new spot.
According to multiple reports, UConn is on the verge of leaving the American Athletic Conference to rejoin the Big East. Should that happen, national outlets like ESPN and Yahoo have suggested Air Force would be a top candidate to fetch a spot in the AAC as a football-only member (a role Navy has in the conference).
Or, the AAC could opt not to replace UConn and continue as an 11-team conference.
“My early leader on who replaces UConn would be Air Force,” New York-based Associated Press college football writer Ralph Russo tweeted Saturday.
Air Force did not immediately respond to The Gazette’s request for comment on the situation.
Sources consulted by The Gazette made such a move sound unlikely at best, though one said “it’s not impossible.”
The biggest hindrance would be what the Falcons would do with the rest of their 13 programs that compete in the Mountain West, as they would be highly unlikely to be taken by the AAC or stay in the MW without football attached. The only options (semi) regionally would be the Western Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley, Big Sky, Big West or West Coast Conference; and that only works if one of those leagues opens its arms to the academy. Or, the Falcons programs could try to compete as independents.
Those options are less than ideal, but the academy made a similar push for inclusion into the Big 12 three years ago as a football-only school. The money here wouldn’t be as significant as it would have been in the Big 12, but it might be substantial enough to make this worth exploring.
The AAC recently signed a 12-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN that will pay approximately $7 million per institution annually. Navy would not release its percentage of the figures, which are not made public, but has said it makes only “slightly less” than the conference’s full members.
The current Mountain West television deal pays roughly $1 million per school, and the conference is exploring alternatives to cable deals in the future to curtail the trend of television-fueled late-night kickoffs that have cut into attendance.
The AAC wouldn’t be as cozy geographically as Air Force’s current setup in the Mountain West, where its division foes include Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah State. But in the AAC it could potentially find its way into a division with teams in the Central Time Zone like Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa. Trips would be longer to the other schools in the conference — including Central Florida, Cincinnati, Eastern Carolina, South Florida and Temple — but division play would mean the Falcons would travel only once every four years to those destinations. Considering its current cross-division trips take it to Hawaii and multiple California schools, the travel would largely be a push.
There would be logistics to determine with Navy being in the league, assuming that series would continue every year, but perhaps Air Force and Navy could petition to the conference to play nonleague games in the years they don’t face off in AAC contests — provided they are not placed in the same division.
Army has also been suggested as a replacement for UConn, but the prospect of throwing the lucrative Army-Navy game into control of a conference with the revenue then distributed among other teams would be a deterrent to that happening.
The music won’t even begin playing until UConn officially departs the AAC, but once that happens expect Air Force to be among those at least eyeing a new seat.