You may think you look good. You may feel like others have nothing on you. You might even think you could talk your way past the velvet rope and into the VIP party where the bottles are popping and social media influencers are posting selfies. But the reality is, you are what others think of you. That may not be fair, but life ain't fair.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco released a second letter in recent months calling for the end of any recognition of a P5 and to recognize all conferences as just that, conferences. He was trying again to change a narrative that unfortunately for him he can't control.
I get it. Aresco is doing what any commissioner should do- promote his league and fight for what you think your league is or has earned. His letter boasted the success of the AAC and suggested his league is closer to the perceived third biggest conference than any league behind the American.
The letter was long, too long. No one reads that much and a lot of the information was repetitive but Aresco is angry. He wants the media to stop using the P5 and maybe he thinks other leagues will jump on that train. Maybe some will. I actually think what Aresco wants is for the media to recognize that the Big Ten and SEC may be far ahead of anyone else, but the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12 are closer to his league than those three are to the big two.
First, I like Mike Aresco. He's always been kind to me in person or for an interview. I respected and appreciated the job he did when he took over as commissioner of the Big East only to have the catholic schools bolt and Aresco managed to keep a league together, add schools and develop a brand in the American. He salvaged the best media deal he could with little leverage and then saw UCF have the dream season the new league needed, by earning the Big East's final spot in the BCS and then winning the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. The league then quickly established itself as the best non-P5 conference in the country as UCF(3 times), Cincinnati(2), Houston, Memphis and Tulane secured spots in major bowls in the last decade.
Aresco knows exactly why the media and most college football fans have recognized a P5 and a G5. The media created the P5/G5 narrative and used it over and over and over so that it became ingrained in the minds of everyone who follows the sport.
But the reality of the perception comes down to coverage and money. It always has and it always will. The leagues that get the most money from networks, get the best time slots and get the most coverage. Until that changes- and it won't- the perception is not going anywhere.
Over the years AAC schools knew the media coverage and knew how it worked. The bottom line is if most of your games are on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN and FS1 your coverage is going to be significantly better than conferences whose games appear on ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, CBS Sports Network or anything else.
The majority of football and men's basketball games in the American appear on that second list of channels and will for years to come. And while the media dollars to schools in the Big Ten and SEC are double or more of the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12(assuming they get a deal done) those three conferences are paying(or will pay) $20-$30M more than the AAC or any other G5 league. And while the American and other G5 conferences stand to make more money with the new expanded playoff and media deal, they will certainly make far less than those five leagues that have been known as the P5.
A school like UCF now has a chance to compete at a higher level because of the increased money they stand to make and they have a chance to grow their image/brand by winning at a level perceived to be higher than any league they have played in before. There is no guarantee of success for UCF on the field but they are about to get more exposure both on television and in the stands.
One of the challenges the AAC has had is that too many schools in the league simply do not draw and are not college football atmospheres compared to any P5 league where the majority of towns pack stadiums regardless of the opponent. It's not picking on anyone but I've called games at Temple, Tulsa, SMU and Tulane(before 2022) and crowds were maybe a few thousand. Optics matter in college football. When fans see a number between 1-25 next to a school on a scoreboard graphic they perceive them to be good. When fans see a game on ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN they assume it's a game featuring P5 teams and when fans attend or watch a game and see a packed stadium versus one with a few thousand fans they assume one game is bigger than the other.
There are several really good, well funded and supported G5 programs. Three of them are moving to the Big 12 in UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. ECU, Boise State, San Diego State, USTA are a few of the bigger schools when it comes to football playing outside of the P5. And in the new 12-team playoff any G5 league has a chance to send their champion to the playoff and maybe the American will earn that spot every year. And yes, they have a chance to win the national title but until any of those schools become regulars in the playoff and win a game every so often, perception will not change. Since 2017 UCF and Cincinnati have been better in football than many P5 programs and they have the non-conference wins to back it up, but the perception was they were not part of the big-boy club and studio and pre-game shows and college football talking heads reminded those schools of that every year, every week and every game.
I don't fault or laugh at Aresco for doing what he's doing. Again, a commissioner should do what he/she believes is best for their league and fight and scream for what you think is balanced coverage and perception. But Aresco cannot control that perception. Success on the field can change it a little but who you hang with leads to the label of who you are. And while the Big Ten and SEC may have bottle service high atop the club, the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12 still are getting VIP access and not waiting in the line where the AAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, CUSA and MAC are standing and waiting to get in but they can hear the party. Is it fair? Again, life is not fair but the reality is you are what others think of you...
Final note: Orange juice is the most popular juice in America. Apple and cranberry are second and third.