The University of Texas at San Antonio officials announced Thursday that it will join the American Athletic Conference (AAC), departing Conference USA for a higher-profile league that will bring the school’s football program more television revenue and exposure.
The move is part of a realignment of college athletic conferences triggered last summer when the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma said they would leave the Big 12 Conference and join the Southeastern Conference (SEC). AAC members the University of Cincinnati, the University of Houston, and the University of Central Florida have agreed to join the Big 12, paving the way for the AAC to invite six new member schools.
The AAC’s board of directors and Commissioner Mike Aresco approved UTSA’s membership along with five other Conference USA members, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Texas, Rice University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A timetable for when the schools will begin play as AAC members wasn’t disclosed.
For UTSA, the conference switch comes as the football program is enjoying the most successful season in school history, with a 7-0 record and first-ever ranking in both national football polls.
As a member of the AAC, UTSA will increase its national media exposure and brand recognition and expand the number of Texas team match-ups and recruiting opportunities, according to a press release from UTSA.
“UTSA is on an amazing upward trajectory with a very bright future,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “Today represents a significant waypoint on that journey for our athletics program. Joining the [AAC] is a bold opportunity for UTSA and builds on the powerful momentum of the university.”
UTSA and the other Conference USA schools, which receive less than $1 million a year in television revenue, will get at least double that amount when they join the AAC, according to Yahoo! Sports. The AAC’s current members are expected to receive an average of about $7 million each year from the league’s TV deal with ESPN, which runs through 2031-32, Yahoo! Sports reported.
UTSA joins with the AAC’s nine existing members and five new members to bring the conference’s membership to 15 schools that will compete as a 14-team league in football and in men’s and women’s basketball, among other sports. The league will have four teams in the state of Texas.
The institutions that currently make up the AAC include East Carolina University, the University of Memphis, the U.S. Naval Academy (football only), the University of South Florida, Southern Methodist University, Temple University, Tulane University, the University of Tulsa, and Wichita State University (basketball and Olympic sports only).
With the addition of new members, the AAC will have a presence in four of the top 10 Nielsen media markets, in seven of the top 25, and in 12 of the top 51 media markets.
“We are thrilled to join the American Athletic Conference and are appreciative to Commissioner Aresco and the conference’s board of directors for their vision and partnership,” said Lisa Campos, UTSA vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics . “This move will further elevate UTSA as a national brand and advance our goal of transforming lives as San Antonio’s nationally recognized NCAA Division I program. It is a great time to be a Roadrunner.”
UTSA competes in 17 intercollegiate sports — baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track & field and women’s volleyball — at the NCAA Division I level.
UTSA launched its football program in 2011, played the 2012 season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and moved to Conference USA for the 2013 season.
The Irving-based AAC sponsors 22 championships, 10 for men and 12 for women. The conference has television partnerships with ESPN, CBS Sports (for select men’s basketball games), and CBS Sports Network (for most Navy home football games).
“I am extremely pleased to welcome these six outstanding universities to the American Athletic Conference,” said Aresco. “This is a strategic expansion that accomplishes a number of goals as we take the conference into its second decade. We are adding excellent institutions that are established in major cities and have invested in competing at the highest level.”