NEWPORT, R.I. — With change on the horizon for college sports, American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco wants everyone to know his league has the resources and the will to be included with the top football conferences in the country.
Aresco opened the first football media day for the conference formerly known as the Big East on Tuesday by touting its accomplishments and making the case that the American is not so dissimilar to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.
"Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future, we expect to be part of it," he said.
The commissioners of the five most powerful conferences have been pushing the NCAA to reform how its rules and policies are made and enforced. Some have suggested it could lead to a new level of college sports for the schools with the most resources. A Division 4 as Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby called it.
A key issues has been the desire of the big five conferences to give a stipend to scholarship athletes of about $2,000 per year that would cover the full cost of attendance. An NCAA proposal for it was shot down by smaller schools.
Aresco said he and his members share many of the concerns of the big five conferences.
"Having said that, we all need more detail as what such a fourth division might entail, how it would be governed, the costs associated with it," Aresco said. "There's been a lot of discussion about it but there aren't really a lot of hard details at this point.
"Our presidents and our athletic directors will weigh in once more is known. But our strong indication is to do what is necessary to be part of such a division if restructuring occurs."
The American trails far behind the big five in terms of revenue it will generate in the coming years. Most of the $5.6 billion ESPN is set to pay over the 12 years starting in 2014 to broadcast the College Football Playoff goes to the big five, and the American's latest TV deal pays its members a fraction of what schools in the top five conferences make.
Still, Aresco said revenue should not hold the American back.
"Our inclination would be to do what we need to do to be part of that group," he said. "Now, we don't know what the cost of attendance figures would really be at this point. We know what the stipend numbers have been, but we don't know long term what other conferences are going to propose.
"But I would say this: That our presidents are committed to being part of this and take a hard look at that. Obviously we do what it takes. "
The ravages of conference realignment led to the Big East re-inventing itself as the American, but some things remain the same. The league offices are still in Providence and it still opens its football season with a clambake in this northeast vacation spot.
The American finally has some stability, without a looming threat of more defections, but it's also still in flux.
Louisville, the conference favorite, is in its last season before moving to the ACC. Rutgers is heading to the Big Ten after this season. Joining the other Big East holdovers — Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida — this season are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU.
Next season Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina join. Navy is set to join in 2015 to give the American 12 teams and the ability to play a football title game.
The American champion will play in the BCS this year, but when that goes away starting in 2014 it will have to compete with the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American and Conference USA for one spot in the best bowl games.
Aresco said the American is still a formidable football conference, with seven of this year's 10 members having been ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings since 2008 and five of 10 in the top 10 since 2006. He also rattled off a long list of teams from the power conferences that the American will play in the coming years.
New Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville echoed Aresco's sales pitch, touting the league's potential and big media markets.
"We obviously have to put a good product on the field," said Tuberville, who has been head coach at Mississippi, Auburn and Texas Tech. "I've coached in most leagues, and the one thing that we had in those leagues is we had tradition in some of those teams and we had followings. We didn't have the metro cities that we do today in this league. We have a great opportunity to sell our product to a lot more people than most of the conferences combined."