Mike Aresco: The AAC’s Don Quixote

A rare color photo of Temple Stadium, a place that existed from 1928-2004. Have to wonder where Temple would be now if the campus was moved to the border of Cheltenham and Philadelphia, as was the original thought when the stadium was built. Temple could have upgraded it and 12,500 students living there could have made it a real home-field advantage.

Like him or not, you cannot accuse American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco of being lackadaisical.

As recently as two weeks ago, Aresco penned an open letter complaining about how the league has been treated by “the media” in not getting a Power 5 designation.

It is a familiar theme for Aresco and unfortunately will fall on deaf ears.

The problem is, like Don Quixote, the hero in a satirical novel by Cervantes, Aresco is tilting at windmills. To some, Quixote represents the idea of a person pursuing a goal that might be foolish or unattainable in the eyes of others but the quest matters to them.

That’s pretty much where the AAC is today.

Temple made several institutional missteps along the way to find itself in limbo with the other top G5 schools when it had a chance to be promoted. Maybe it goes all the way back to 1928. When I asked the late Doc Chodoff more than a decade ago why Temple built a field on Cheltenham Ave. instead of the main campus, he said the plan back then was to move the campus there so that’s where it made the most sense to get ahead of the game and build a campus around a stadium. Back in the 30s, the seating capacity was 40,000 and already having a stadium the university could have easily made upgrades. In the 1950s, the capacity was downgraded to 20,017.

Moving from largely a commuter school to 12,500 students living on campus, a stadium already existing in that environment could have probably been enough to position Temple for inclusion into the Power 5. Keeping Bruce Arians as head coach probably would have also helped move the ball forward. Instead, the school fumbled with bad coaching hires that started with Jerry Berndt and hopefully ended with Rod Carey.

Charles G. Erny (hat) and two others take a look at the “brand new” Temple Stadium in 1928. Erny contributed $350,000 to build the stadium and the Temple baseball team played on the adjacent Erny Field for decades. Perhaps Erny is pointing to North Philly and telling the men that’s where the school will house its students temporarily. (Photos courtesy Temple Libraries)

Water under the bridge for Temple now and so to it is for the AAC.

The “media” isn’t responsible for the Power 5 designation but the NCAA is for allowing the five largest conferences to hijack whatever governing it had over not only football but for the two major sports. The NCAA probably feels it has no other choice but to cede power to those leagues because it might fear they will break away to form their own organization.

Maybe they should let them go because a lot of the good that the NCAA provided was a tight reign on institutions that play fast and loose with the rules in order to get ahead.

Now it’s the Wild Wild West and there is no James West or Artemas Gordon to police the bad guys.

The bad guys certainly are not the media who just report on the reality of the situation.

The reality is that the “bad guys” are in control and no number of good guys or good arguments by the good guys seem to matter.

The system in place now rewards the “haves” with more riches and subjugated the “have-nots” with even less than they already had. The G5 didn’t start out to be a farm system for the P5 but with the NIL and the transfer portal, that’s what it has become.

The victim has been fairness and an eroding of confidence by fans of G5 schools that their teams can ever get a shot at upward mobility.

Nobody on the governmental level seems to be in a hurry to restore it. All Aresco can do in 2023 is, like Quixote in 1605, tilt at windmills.

Monday: The New Arrivals


AAC Media Day: The Veneer is Off

Mike Aresco at least year’s AAC Media Day.

About five years ago, The Question was always answered one way:

What is the AAC all about?

Mike Aresco, the very well-paid commissioner of the league (exactly $2,246,027.00 cents per year), would always answer that the league felt it belonged as a Power conference and would accept no less than a Power 6 designation.

Now the veneer is off.

Arguably before now because the departure of cornerstone members Houston, UCF, and Cincy was known last year.

Now just about everyone knows that the AAC Media Day–which will be held on July 28–will take on another brave face: That Rice, UAB, FAU are all valuable additions and that the league will sustain one way or another.

No doubt, it will, but key members like Memphis and Temple want out and Aresco cannot claim otherwise in good faith.

The only way Memphis–which lost to quite possibly the worst Temple team in the last decade last year–and Temple (which most people would concede made a positive move jettisoning Rod Carey) stay is that they have no place to go.

That might be the truth but the larger truth is that this year the AAC is at its most vulnerable state since it was created in the ashes of the old Big East.

Memphis is renovating its stadium to the tune of $200 million (more than Temple said it would cost to build a new one) and that probably is not because it wants to remain in the AAC.

Temple’s media market (No. 4) is the only top five media market that does not have a Power 5 team within its footprint so, for that reason alone, a lot of eyes will be on the Owls and the way they bounce back from 1-6 and 3-9 seasons

Aresco can’t say that Temple or Memphis or really anyone else is committed to this league for a long time.

That said, it should be interesting how he walks on the eggshells that will no doubt be on the floor in less than a week. Repeating the same line he has in past media days threatens not only his credibility but the leagues.

Monday: There are two ways of looking at it

Turning it Around: Reseeding AAC bowls

Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner,

Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner, probably is going to seed the bowls differently next year.

Somewhere in the Rhode Island office of the league this morning after a long vacation,  AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is kicking himself.

The AAC started out 1-3 in the bowls but finished 4-3. That’s better than two Power 5 conferences but could have been even more impressive. UCF fans were salty that Temple and not it was playing a Power 5 team in a bowl game and, in retrospect, it looked like those fans were right. The thought process probably was then that Temple would draw better to the Military, but the thought process was skewed because, to this league, prestige means more than money at this point.

If Aresco had to reseed the bowls, we’re going to guess he might have gone with these matchups instead:

Military Bowl _ UCF vs. North Carolina. The speed of the Knights would have been a much better matchup against the Tar Heels than Temple would have been. While UNC put up 55 on the Owls, UCF put up 62 and, if it traveled pretty well to Philadelphia (it did), it would have done the same to Annapolis. UCF, 39-35.

Gasparilla Bowl _ Temple vs. Marshall. Cincinnati went to Marshall and beat the Thundering Herd, 45-13. Temple traveled to Cincy and would lose a 15-13 game it would have won if it had an even marginally passable special teams. Temple, 35-14.

Birmingham Bowl _ SMU vs. Boston College. SMU finished 10-2 in the regular season and was “awarded” with that trip with a game against FAU in the Boca Raton Bowl. That game was played on FAU’s home field and an unmotivated SMU team lost big-time. Had SMU played a BC team that Cincy beat, 38-6, got to think that the result would have been similar. SMU, 28-7.

Aresco could have done nothing about the Cotton Bowl because Memphis earned its spot and Navy’s beating of Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl was definitely a feather in the league’s cap.

Also, the Armed Forces Bowl that saw Tulane beat former rival Southern Mississippi was a good matchup. That said, the best the AAC could have done was gone 6-1 and we’ve got to think that’s probably why Aresco is kicking himself now because, with a little better forethought, that’s exactly what would have happened.

Thanks to a 55-13 loss, Temple will probably be sent to bowl hell next year if the Owls even make a bowl and it will be a well-earned sentence.

Friday: The Other Side of The Portal