IRVING, Texas (AP) — Mike Aresco is retiring as commissioner of the American Athletic Conference at the end of the current academic year on May 31, after serving during a period of constant change in college athletics while championing for his and other leagues outside the Power Five.
Aresco became the fourth commissioner of the Big East Conference in 2012, and oversaw the reconstitution of that organization into the American Athletic Conference a year later, when the original seven members of the Big East kept that name and returned to their basketball roots. Aresco announced his retirement Thursday.
“It would take many pages to list this conference’s numerous athletic and academic accomplishments,” Aresco said in a statement. “There have also been some disappointments and difficulties along the way, most notably, the P5-G5 divide, realignment, College Football Playoff access for our deserving teams, and some competitive heartbreak in big games.”
The College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams next year, but this is the 10th season in which the highest-ranked team from outside the Power Five conferences gets into a New Year’s Six bowl game as part of the CFP model.
Cincinnati was still in the AAC two years ago when it became the first non-P5 team to make the four-team playoff. The league has had teams in NY6 games six other times, and won three of them.
The 73-year-old Aresco described it as a “the supreme privilege of my long career in sports” to lead the American from its reinvention and to represent its student-athletes, coaches and administrators.
Before joining the Big East for its transition, Aresco was executive vice present of programming at CBS Sports, handling the network’s contract negotiations with the NCAA for the rights to the men’s basketball tournament. He also negotiated the deal that led to the CBS airing the SEC’s Saturday afternoon centerpiece game and football championship from 1996 until this year.
“Mike was a trusted colleague at CBS Sports and played an integral role in the growth of college sports at our network,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. “From helping to further March Madness into a national treasure and leading our groundbreaking arrangement with the NCAA in 1999 and later our historic joint venture with Turner Sports, to establishing SEC football as a national television package, his vision was clear and his legacy is secure.”
Aresco had joined CBS in 1996 after 12 years with ESPN, where the University of Connecticut Law School graduate began as counsel and moved into programming.
Former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Aresco has made his mark as both a TV executive and conference commissioner.
“Smart, creative, hard working and honest are appropriate words to describe Mike’s leadership throughout both of his career paths,” Delany said.
East Carolina Chancellor Philip Rogers, chair of the American Athletic Conference’s board of directors, said Aresco has been a strong, steady and innovative commissioner.
“There is no question that he will leave the AAC well-positioned for future success due to his strategic approach to navigating the complex landscape of intercollegiate athletics,” Rogers said.
The American had 14 football teams this season, and will stay at that number in 2024 when Army joins as a football-only member after SMU leaves for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA joined the AAC this season from Conference USA. Their arrivals came when Cincinnati, Houston and UCF officially left the American for the Big 12.
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